Avila on Ilitch for retaining Ausmus: 'Yes, go ahead’
Detroit — The Tigers improved by 12 games this season, despite a laundry list of injuries, inconsistencies and other impediments to winning.
And yet, with a $200 million payroll and lofty expectations, the fact remains they are still sitting out the postseason.
For many outside the Tigers organization, that was all the indictment needed to send manager Brad Ausmus packing and change the club’s leadership going forward.
That was not, however, how owner Mike Ilitch felt. And it was most certainly not the way general manager Al Avila saw it.
“Just cutting ties because you didn't get into the postseason doesn't make the team better and it doesn't mean that's the right decision,” Avila said in a conference call Wednesday announcing the Tigers had exercised their option to bring Ausmus back for a fourth season.
“It's not as simple as, ‘Hey, you didn't get in — you want to whack the guy and move forward.’ It's not as simple as that. If you feel that you can continue to get better, then you stay the course.”
As for Ilitch’s input:
“I did discuss it with Mr. Ilitch,” Avila said. “He gave me the OK to pick up the option. I explained to him my reasoning and he agreed. He said, ‘Yes, go ahead.’”
That’s not to say Ilitch was pleased with how the season went.
“Just like all of us, he wanted to get to the playoffs, to get to the World Series, and the goal is to do that,” Avila said. “So, he felt like all of us. Obviously, that’s what we wanted to do, and we didn’t do it. Now we’re regrouping.
“Let me put it to you this way: You don’t just go there and hash over all the bad, all the games that you lost. What happened, happened. Nobody liked it. We didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve. So now we got to regroup, move forward and see where we go from here.”
Ausmus, it was decided, was part of the solution. Avila cited Ausmus’ ability to keep the team together through the wild ups and downs of the season. He also praised the work he did with the younger players, particularly the young starting pitching.
“I think we did improve over last year,” Avila said. “I think the team is prepped to continue to improve moving forward and I think Brad had a big part of that. Sometimes it's not just clear-cut wins and losses or did you get into the postseason or not?
“There's a lot of circumstances that you've got to take into account along the way. You've got to look at the big picture. It might be easy to say, 'Let's cut ties right now just because we didn't get into the postseason.' But that can create bigger and worse problems down the road.”
Ausmus, as he did this past season, will work with a one-year contract.
“I personally like to go year-to-year at this time,” Avila said. “The club can change from year to year. For our organization, having the club option works for us, and actually, I think it works for Brad.
“There are several managers in today's game that work year to year and there have been managers in the past who've worked year to year. I am comfortable with it. At this point, there is no reason for me or for Brad to think anything different.”
Ausmus said repeatedly last year that he put no stock in the concept of being a lame duck.
“The players don’t care about your contract,” he said. “Most of them don’t even know your contract. Either they respect you or they don’t — regardless of your contract.”
Ausmus, who joined the conference call from his family home in Connecticut, said he felt both excited for and deserving of the chance to continue what he’s started in Detroit.
“It's Al's decision,” he said. “He has to look at the club and look at what I've done and decide whether he thinks I'm the person to lead this club or not. I obviously feel like I am.
“We fell short of the playoffs this year. But it was a team that a lot of people left for dead and they continued to fight and play all the way through to the last game of the season.”
He and Avila both agreed that keeping the continuity of the coaching staff was important, especially with the gains that were made this past season.
“I know the personnel much better than I did my first year,” Ausmus said. “I've gained experience over the three years I've been here. And just as a player improves over time, I think a manager improves over time.
“I don't think there necessarily is a better fit, but that's not my decision.”
As for working on a year-to-year basis, Ausmus said that works because of his relationship with Avila.
“Al and I work very well together,” Ausmus said. “We get along great. From what I hear, that isn't always the case. So it's nice to know I have someone I can talk to, not only on a business platform, but if I just want to talk to Al about anything on a personal level, I can talk to Al.
“That's a big part of it for me. If it was someone I couldn't work with, I'd probably say don't bring me back just for one year.”
Also, Ausmus said, the veteran leadership that’s in place makes it desirable to come back — regardless of the length of his contract.
“The veteran leadership is huge in a clubhouse,” he said. “I've been there as a player. I've been the young guy that's had veteran leadership and I've been in clubhouses without veteran leadership. And I've been a veteran leader. A clubhouse runs much smoother with good veteran leadership. It's a big asset to any manager.
“Those two things, and we still are in a position to put a winning product on the field, are why I said I'd be happy to come back and manage this team.”
Ausmus said he reached out to his coaching staff but has yet to talk to any players. Avila said he expects most, if not all, of Ausmus’ coaches to return — though that hasn’t been discussed at this point.
Avila also deferred on questions about the club’s payroll and personnel changes over the offseason.
“We have our year-end meetings with our major league scouts and advisers next week,” he said. “We’ll be meeting from Monday through Friday next week in Lakeland. When we come out of that, I’ll have more of an idea of where we’re going to be headed, and what we’ll be doing — or what we’ll be trying to do.
“I will say we’ll be open-minded to anything and everything out there. But right now, I’m not in a position to discuss payroll or anything of that nature at this point.”
Ausmus is 250-234 (.517) in his three seasons at the helm.