Henning: Tigers’ rebuild won’t scare off qualified manager candidates
What strikes you about this autumn’s Tigers managerial safari is knowing the new guy will shake hands with a team that is a wonderful bet to lose 100 or more games in 2018. And maybe 90 or more the year after.
This is a bit like getting hired to dig your own grave. Although in this case the job at least carries future benefits.
If the new skipper keeps players involved and the clubhouse homicide-free during what figures to be at least two years of getting thrashed, he can remain stain-free in terms of job status.
If he can make it to the third season and the new kids have begun to shine and the Tigers get a new corps of promising pitchers, all of which is roughly the forecast for 2020, the skipper’s stock should rise.
But this will not be pleasant, this major re-do of the Tigers roster. And yet the reality is so many former managers, current coaches, and aspiring skippers, are starving for this job in Detroit.
There is a kick and cachet to managing a big-league baseball team that transcends a fifth-place finish. There also is money to be made. And financial security to ensure. And that is why Al Avila, the Tigers general manager, is now sifting through a couple of dozen or more names, paring down a list of interviewees who beginning next week will be headed steadily to Comerica Park.
Names, good names, already have been advanced. Some need to be more deeply examined. Consider three in today’s episode of that new fall series: “You Sure You Want This Job?”
Alex Cora, Astros bench coach: This gent was an initial, personal thought as precisely the guy Avila might want. Cora still is, even if he has not managed in the minors or in the big leagues.
Cora turns 42 in three weeks, is a former big-league infielder with the Dodgers and six other clubs, is a one-time ESPN analyst, and played at the University of Miami. He has been Astros bench coach for the past year and thus has been steeped in Houston’s NASA-caliber approach to baseball analytics, which Avila absolutely bear-hugs.
Cora was general manager of the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic and has managed in winter ball. It is hard to believe he won’t get an interview. It is just as difficult to fathom that in answering whatever comes his way he won’t impress the socks off Avila and Detroit’s front office. Keep in mind one Alex Cora.
Hensley Meulens, Giants hitting coach: This is another quiet favorite to at least be interviewed. Meulens, 50, could probably bid for a role as his native Curacao’s ambassador to the United Nations if he weren’t intent on sticking in baseball. He speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, and even Japanese, a testament to his years playing in Japan after he had spent time in the big leagues.
A very sharp communicator. A man of high intellect. Meulens also has managed the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. So, at least to some degree, he has a taste of the skipper experience Avila has pretty much insisted upon.
Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins third-base coach: Gonzalez is mentioned as a follow-up to an earlier focus detailing how, on paper, he makes abundant sense as the next Tigers admiral.
People nonetheless wonder: If he’s so good, why was he cashiered with the Braves and Marlins?
Gonzalez is regarded by those who know him as an exceptional person and communicator. On these matters, there is no quarrel. It explains why he was hired by the Marlins at age 42. He had some quality seasons there, won the Sporting News Manager of the Year Award in 2008, then was fired by baseball’s most misbegotten owner, Jeff Loria, when the Marlins started the season 35-36 in 2010.
The Braves grabbed him at the end of the year and life was upbeat there until a bad second half in 2015, and a rebuilding club’s 9-28 start in 2016, doomed him.
Whether he fits Avila’s concept of the new Tigers skipper is a question. Avila, again, wants a man who can oversee a baseball hatchery these next few years and Gonzalez might or might not measure up there.
There were also issues of roles and bullpen usage with the Braves, although you can’t always be sure how much front-office influence plays a part there.
These are topics for discussion during interviews that, at least today, are being considered and scheduled by a team that has a key opening.
It might not be the best of baseball jobs. The roster figures to be scary for a while. But tell that to the men who only hope Avila calls. They want a shot at their dream.