Cleveland — Less than 24 hours after reports circulated that he was going to be fired at the end of the season, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus' sarcastic wit was still in good form.
Asked whether he subscribed to the notion that managers were hired to be fired, he said, "I still haven't hung any pictures on my wall."
Ausmus, in the second of a three-year deal, remains the manager of the Tigers and executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Al Avila assured him early Friday that he was still being evaluated by the organization and he would remain the manager for the rest of the season.
"I talked to Al this morning and since then it's been business as usual," Ausmus said. "Nothing has changed since the day (Avila) was hired."
It was on that day in early August that Avila, who replaced Dave Dombrowski, pledged his faith in Ausmus and said he would be evaluated, as would his staff and the minor league coaching staff, at season's end.
"I have stated several times since becoming executive vice president and general manager that we are evaluating all personnel, and that includes the players, the manager and all his staff and minor league operations," Avila wrote in a statement. "In fact, I reconfirmed with Mr. (Mike) Ilitch and manager Brad Ausmus this morning that these evaluations are ongoing and decisions in any of these areas will be made by the end of the season."
Later, in a separate conversation with the News, Avila talked about media reports that Ausmus will be fired.
"It's unfortunate it happened the way it's happened," Avila said. "It puts us all in a very awkward situation. But you deal with it. I already spoke with Mr. Iltich, I spoke with Brad, and we'll deal with this situation. But it's not like Mr. I has made a decision yet. If he had, he would have told me.
"So, we'll deal with this rumor and move on. We'll continue. And we'll make a decision toward, or at the end of the season."
On the surface, it appears that Ausmus is being left to twist in the wind for these final three weeks. Ausmus doesn't see it that way.
"Not really," he said. "I am very comfortable with where everything is right now."
He actually laughed when asked if his status as a lame-duck manager was heightened.
"Not at all," he said. "These guys will continue to play the game the right way. People want to make a big deal about that and managers often use it in the final year of a contract to get an extension.
"The truth is, players will respect you or not respect you regardless of what your contract status is."
He said he did not press Avila to make an immediate decision about his future, nor did he consider resigning.
"No, I have a contract and I will do everything I can to help the Tigers until they tell me they don't want me to help them," Ausmus said. "Or, until my contract expires — whichever comes first."
He was asked directly if he wanted to return next year.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said.
Ausmus, like both Avila and assistant general manager David Chadd, said the report that he was going to be fired came out of the blue. The anonymous source cited in the WDIV report came from the Ilitch camp.
"I love anonymous sources," Ausmus said, dryly. "They don't quite have the spine to put their name to their words. But that's coming from above me. It's not my concern. My concern is this clubhouse and the field. I am not worried if there are multiple voices coming from above me. I can't control that."
In the clubhouse Friday, the players seemed to be taking the situation in stride.
"I don't think it will have any effect on what we do here on a daily basis," catcher Alex Avila said. "It's just noise. We can't worry about that. That's why I don't think it will effect what we do in here."
Avila and second baseman Ian Kinsler both said it would be a mistake to pin the blame on Ausmus for the team's struggles this season.
"He's done a good job," Avila said. "This year he's been dealt a tough hand with injuries and poor play from some of the guys who were expected to play well. A lot of that doesn't go on the manager. The manager is only as good as his players and we haven't played well this year."
After the Tigers won their fourth straight American League Central title in Ausmus' first season a year ago, the team is 12 games under .500 and has slipped to the bottom of the division.
Injuries to key personnel — including Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez and Avila — a pitching staff that ranks at or near the bottom in nearly every statistical measure, and the organization's decision to trade away three top players (Yoenis Cespedes, David Price and Joakim Soria) at the deadline have contributed to the fall.
"He won the division in his first year as a manager – there is something to be said for that," Kinsler said. "This year has been kind of a mess. Obviously, we didn't live up to expectations. I don't know how much of that is his fault or where all the blame needs to go. But it's been a tough year."
Neither Ausmus nor the players have any delusions about what may happen after the season. Nobody in the organization directly debunked the reports. All that was settled on Friday was that Ausmus, barring some other unforeseen calamity or change of whim by the owner, will finish the season.
That the Tigers are likely to make a managerial change after the season is still very much the elephant in the room.
"To be honest," Alex Avila said, "when teams that are expected to win don't win, there's always that elephant."