This might be the Tigers’ new man.
All because he fits, categorically, the criteria Al Avila insists on bringing to Detroit as the victim next in line to absorb flak previously reserved for Jim Leyland and Brad Ausmus.
Fredi Gonzalez makes too much sense.
Let’s scan the various boxes and see how many check-marks apply:
Experience: Avila, the Tigers general manager who gets his first crack at a personally stamped skipper, wants a man who previously managed at some level of professional baseball. Gonzalez was Marlins manager from 2007 into 2010, and ran the Braves from 2011 into 2016. He has 1,402 games as a big-league commander, not to mention a bunch of years in the minors. Big, bold checkmark there.
Age and energy: Gonzalez is 53. He now spends his baseball days and nights as the Marlins’ third-base coach. Those who know him understand, implicitly, he is aching to manage again and would love a shot at the Tigers job. Check-mark there, in indelible ink.
Background: This is where Gonzalez’ resume gets doubly interesting. He has worked with Avila, with assistant GMs David Chadd and John Westhoff, with Tigers scouting guru Scott Reid, and others, when all were with the Marlins. Gonzalez has known Avila since 1991. Their relationship always has been cordial. He also knows and has worked with Miguel Cabrera. Check here with a big-nosed marker pen.
Ethnicity: This absolutely counts. The Tigers have a heavy Latin mix and will continue to have such presence, and it’s always nice when the manager knows the culture and can speak effortless Spanish. Gonzalez was born in Cuba, raised in Miami, and, like Avila, speaks English and Spanish with interchangeable ease. Beneath this check-mark place an underscore.
Doing a lot with little: Other than Jack McKeon (281 victories), Gonzalez has won more games than any other Marlins manager (276), which, granted, is like saying Wayne Fontes in the past 60 years has coached the Lions to more playoff victories (one) than any other coach. But you get the picture, and Gonzalez gets another easy check here. Twice in Miami, Gonalzez had winning records, despite payrolls of $22 million (2008) and $37 million (2009). He earned manager-of-the-year votes in five of his eight full seasons.
Miscellaneous: He is friends with Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. They got to know each other when Van Gundy was running the Miami Heat. No check-mark necessary here, except it’s known Van Gundy has made Gonzalez aware, as he has stated lavishly to anyone else within earshot, that Detroit’s an excellent place in which to live and work.
There are other people, likely quite a few, who will interview over these next three or four weeks, or however long Avila decides he wishes to extend a process that probably won’t be completed until late October or even early November.
The Commissioner’s office prefers teams not announce managerial hires, or big trades, during the World Series. But you can be granted an exception, and the Tigers probably can unveil their new man on a World Series off-day, if Avila has decided on a new skipper and would prefer to get on with business.
It’s important to remember he has many options, even with Avila’s decree that his next man “certainly has to have managerial experience.”
It is understood as many as 30 to 35 names are being amassed on an early list and that they’ll be culled to 10 or fewer as interviews begin. One blow-away, face-to-face meeting with the Tigers brass, and a man could steal this job the way Ausmus did during his interview four years ago.
A name advanced here earlier, Ozzie Guillen, fits Avila’s script, but that always was a candidacy that had about it one potential plus: Guillen would bring color and pyrotechnics and at least a measure of box-office appeal. The reality is he’s probably too combustible and too polarizing to be a proper fit. Energy is another consideration here, and some wonder if Guillen has it in him to take on the Tigers’ multi-year reconstruction project.
Ron Gardenhire, now bench coach with the Diamondbacks, is another obvious pick in terms of experience. But he is 59 and Avila simply might have in mind a younger man, even five or six years more youthful, for a younger team. He also lacks the ethnic element the Tigers might want on board, especially when Cabrera’s situation could be complex in his remaining years.
Mike Redmond, who, like Gonzalez and Guillen, was one of Miami’s many past skippers, could also get a hard look by Avila, who has known him since his playing days in Miami.
Also: Matt Walbeck, who was on a nice track as manager in the Tigers farm system before he left for a big-league coaching job. He’s now third-base and catching coach for the Rangers.
Avila has ample conversations ahead and reasonable time to anoint a new skipper who can brace for a couple of rugged years ahead. This isn’t going to be pretty, at least initially, this new era for a new manager.
But if Las Vegas offered odds on this particular Tigers pick, it’s difficult to imagine, today, anyone enjoying a better early betting line than Gonzalez.