Dave Dombrowski, talking with Brad Ausmus in spring training, has been Tigers GM since 2002. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Wait, that’s not an option?
For much of Jim Leyland’s time at the helm of the Tigers, people could give you a laundry list of reasons why he was the wrong manager for the franchise.
* Too loyal to a player. That’s ol’ Leyland for you. He loves Don Kelly -- we don’t know why.
* No clue how to manage a bullpen. Keeps running the same guys out there no matter how poorly they perform.
* Team has poor fundamentals. Fielders make bad decisions. Baserunners are boneheads. That’s the manager’s fault. The buck stops there.
* The Tigers have to do better than Leyland if they ever want to be a great club.
Well, Leyland retired after the playoffs last year -- a decision he made before the season even ended -- and the Tigers had the opportunity to go the exact opposite direction.
You could argue that’s exactly what they did. Yet nothing has changed, has it?
Brad Ausmus, 45, is one of the youngest managers in the majors. He attended an Ivy League college. Unlike Leyland, who never made it out of the minors, Ausmus was an All-Star catcher with an 18-year major-league career.
He even owns a smartphone and knows how to use it!
All the talk this spring centered on the Tigers’ fundamentals -- both in the field and on the basepaths. This would make up for offseason changes that cost the Tigers in the power department.
The team would take the extra base. The defense would help pitchers shave opponents’ runs off the board.
We had entered a new era of Tigers baseball, and it would be great, and it would most definitely be the opposite of Leyland’s era.
Well, we’re nearly at the midway mark of the season, and what do we have? A club that seems remarkably similar to Leyland’s.
The Tigers rank near the bottom of the league in defensive metrics -- and the eye test. They rank near the bottom of the league in baserunning metrics -- and the eye test.
No one would accuse these Tigers of having strong fundamentals, not with experienced players throwing past the cutoff man while attempting to make plays they have no right to believe were possible. Not with mistakes on the basepaths that leave you burying your face in your palms.
Third base coach Dave Clark may as well be Tom Brookens or Gene Lamont -- players are constantly getting thrown out at home.
And don’t even get started on that bullpen management.
Where is the new identity we expected?
You can’t blame Leyland now.
Maybe the problems we saw all along were a product of roster construction instead?
Fire … Dave Dombrowski?
But here’s the thing: You can find teams with better defense or better baserunning, or (fill in the blank with your favorite example of fundamentals), but the Tigers have won three consecutive division titles. They have played in three consecutive ALCS. They have been in the World Series as recently as 2012. They’re in first place again today.
Not many organizations can claim those feats. They’re still pretty good.
Love them or hate them -- and with a handful of the franchise’s most exciting players in history and more playoff appearances than any generation has ever seen, you should love them -- the Tigers have always been Dombrowski’s team.
His teams aren’t as perfect as you’d like them to be, fortunately they don’t have to be.
The problems of the past weren’t really Leyland’s fault, and the issues we see this year aren’t Ausmus’ fault, either. Credit -- or blame -- should go all the way to the top of the Tigers organization.
Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.