Henning: Ausmus' words speak volumes about his future
Detroit — Interesting, the way in which Brad Ausmus has been speaking of late about the Tigers and 2018.
All these third-person references to “the manager.”
He did it again Wednesday morning, in his office at Comerica Park, during a pre-game chat with media, all before the Tigers lost again, 3-2, to the A’s.
Ausmus mentioned Nicholas Castellanos’ hot September and the way in which a young hitter is moving closer to the middle of Detroit’s batting order.
“The manager will have to figure that out,” he said, referring to next season.
There it was: “The manager.”
Not, “We’ll have to consider that,” or “Al and I will talk about that,” which often is how he frames strategies that he and the Tigers front office and staff will ponder.
“The manager,” he said, as if this were some unnamed entity will be the person who decides matters such as lineups and slots and roles.
This sudden distancing of himself from the Tigers future has crept into his speech several times of late and could simply be Ausmus’ way of not making assumptions. A skipper shouldn’t make a lot of next-year plans when his team has a 62-90 record and when his boss, Tigers general manager Al Avila, could decide in 12 or so days that the Tigers, along with a new roster they’re trying to build, also need a new manager.
Ausmus was asked point-blank Wednesday if he wanted to manage in 2018.
“I’ve been asked that before,” he said. “I’m not getting into it.”
Pressed, he said: “That’s as much as you’re getting out of me.”
Avila wasn’t elaborating Wednesday when The Detroit News asked about possibilities a new manager might be in the stars.
Avila’s response: “As I’ve said all along, after Brad and I speak, I’ll announce what our direction will be.”
A personal feeling is this decision already has been made — perhaps by Ausmus.
He has a nearly impossible job in Detroit. It will be doubly impossible next season when the Tigers could easily lose 100 games. It won’t be appreciably better in 2019, except that some of the farm’s new fruit by then should be ready for delivery at Comerica Park and to a team that likely will have bottomed out, all ahead of what figures to be a typically upward arc for a rebuilding club.
Ausmus could hang on for the restoration — with his boss’ blessing.
But who wins on a status-quo approach to the manager’s office?
Not the skipper, for sure. Ausmus is a bright man. He understands stock values. And you don’t enhance your brand as you wrap up one 90-plus-loss season and set sights on losing 100 or more in 2018.
A greater reality is that big-league managing can grind down a man. It saps the men who work at a job eight or more months a year, with constant travel, crazy hours, and, yes, media and interview responsibilities that are as fatiguing as they can be irritating.
Ausmus is a man of so many facets, intellectual and physical. He loves San Diego. Loves surfing. Has a great wife. And he’s all of 48.
He can do anything he wants in years ahead, including manage, because his reputation across baseball is solid. He can work in one of those assistants to the GM role in which he was involved before the Tigers hired him.
Ausmus made $36 million playing in the big leagues and has probably added $4-5 million as Tigers manager. He can do whatever he wants in life.
As for Avila, he doesn’t derive any obvious or overwhelming dividends from keeping Ausmus. He knows how baseball and the sports business works.
If you’re preparing your fans for a tough stretch, as he has done publicly in letters to season-ticket customers and in words to media who cover the team, it’s probably not the smartest sales strategy to use older images in tandem with fresh decor.
Beyond the horizon
Assuming Ausmus and the Tigers part in two weeks, which by no means is a sure thing when it seemed two years ago he’d be cashiered, there is another small matter to consider.
Who wants to manage this mess?
Answer: Lots of guys. Especially if a nice, extended contract comes the recipient’s way, which is the only way a man who ever took a Business 101 course would agree to tackle this Tigers job.
Granted, baseball diamonds produce more managers than business moguls, but all anyone need do is talk with Alan Trammell about the consequences of supervising a rebuilding team with a three-year contract. There won’t be a fourth year.
So, any brave soul agreeing to work here will need to be compensated and be given reasonable assurance this job won’t be a headfirst plunge onto a funeral pyre that’s mere months from igniting.
In the event Ausmus does in fact leave, it’s feasible one of the existing lieutenants, Lloyd McClendon or Gene Lamont, could slip into the skipper’s seat when each Tigers coach has managerial experience and when each could afford to take hits all parties know are coming.
But that doesn’t make great sense either — again, if Ausmus in fact goes.
As much as you dare peek beyond horizons in big-league baseball, Avila has pitchers gestating at the Double A and Single A outposts. What could be a new, maybe impressive, young rotation is targeted for the 2019-2020 term, which is when hotshot draft picks — Detroit’s consolation prize for losing 90 and 100 games — could bring a new crackle to Comerica, much as the Lions are doing in 2017.
This Tigers team will get better. Not soon. But quickly enough to make young guys now managing in the bushes and dying to show their big-league wiles view Detroit as a job worth taking — assuming patience and paydays are part of the package.
Could they instead agree to continue — Avila and Ausmus — and decide, ah, let’s give it another go?
But that doesn’t appear to be in either man’s plans, or words. Silence from the front office, and Ausmus’ clear detachment from any talk of 2018, suggest his four years in Detroit have been time enough for all parties.