Detroit – Waiting would have been the worst thing the Detroit Tigers could have done to Brad Ausmus and to his withering days as their manager.
Everyone knew, pretty much with certainty, that these final games of a 2017 baseball season that has turned into an ordeal, would be his last in Detroit.
Al Avila decided Friday to bag the speculation and unease and get on with business. Ausmus is done as the Tigers’ skipper. A new man is headed to Detroit in the next few weeks.
Ausmus had a four-year tryout in Detroit that didn’t work. One playoff season. No playoff victories. With a team that lost its best chance to win a World Series, in 2013, when Jim Leyland was still skipper, all before age and diminishing skills became a roster reality now in Ausmus’ lap.
Could someone else have done better? Possibly. But it was a horrible bullpen that sank the Tigers in a three-game playoff sweep to the Orioles in 2014, just as the bullpen had been the Tigers’ gut-punch against the Red Sox in a 2013 postseason the Tigers should have won.
Facts were as clear then as now. Players win and lose. And the Tigers players, even as late owner Mike Ilitch tried his best to squeeze one more playoff season, and one more World Series parade, from a rapidly aging and skill-diminished gang, was nothing Ausmus or any manager was about to offset.
In a news conference in the Detroit Tigers dugout at Comerica Park, General Manager Al Avila and manager Brad Ausmus announce that Ausmus' contract will not be extended after the 2017 season.
Avila, the Tigers general manager, stood late Friday afternoon in a Tigers dugout that felt as if it was six miles from the sun. In broiling humidity, he talked of a “new direction” – meaning a rebuild – and that Ausmus simply didn’t fit with the new plan.
It was the right decision.
In this context.
If you are going to reconstruct a roster, change its makeup, replace players galore, bring in youth, and prepare for what could be a multi-year makeover of baseball in Detroit, you don’t do it with an existing manager whose identity is tied to a team’s past.
Justin Verlander is gone. J.D. Martinez is gone. Victor Martinez probably has played his last game for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera has been hurting and needs, not only resolution on his medical issues, but perhaps a new man at the helm, all because Cabrera will be the most difficult of presences and personalities for the new manager to handle.
It is why Avila, as he plots this Tigers redesign, will most likely be going outside the organization, away from Leyland, away from Ausmus, away from existing coaches – away from any vestige of an old, tired, and now-obsolete Tigers construct.
Forget any of the existing coaches: Lloyd McClendon, Gene Lamont, Omar Vizquel. It is not because of any deficiency on their part that Avila will look elsewhere.
It is the simple reality that ended Ausmus’ days in Detroit.
The Tigers will be crafting a new face, identity, and style. And with that overall package, which will take time to mold, must come a manager Avila considers to be equally bright and intriguing.
It will not be a merry first couple of seasons. The Tigers probably will lose 100 or more games in 2018. It’s a simple matter of too little talent at the top, and too much youth on the farm, which got a nice bump from Avila’s July trades but still lacks the kind of franchise talent the Tigers figure to get in their next couple of drafts.
It makes sense, listening to Avila during Friday’s dugout sweat-fest, that he will go with someone young and dynamic, probably from the minor leagues. He’ll want a man steeped in analytics – Avila is bigger on numbers than was his predecessor, Dave Dombrowski – who is a bit of a firebrand, which will counter Ausmus’ more sedate ways.
That would be the thought after listening carefully to his words Friday.
There is another possibility.
Avila might want a seasoned, high-horsepower manager, with box-office appeal and with charisma fans ideally want in their new skipper.
He might want to speak seriously with Ozzie Guillen.
Guillen as your manager is a bit like having a tiger by the tail – in this case, maybe, a Detroit Tiger.
He talks recklessly. He spouts off. He seems not to be well-acquainted with the word tact.
But he can manage. Seriously manage.
He ran the White Sox for eight seasons. He won a World Series there. Things didn’t work out in Miami, but nobody works out in Miami, and Guillen was just one of a franchise’s long list of casualties.
Something to ponder
Avila is secure enough, as a person, to let Guillen be Guillen. Dombrowski in his rigidity and code-of-conduct ways would not have allowed Ozzie within a three-county radius of Comerica Park.
But it’s something to ponder, hiring just such a man, particularly when Guillen would bring to the Tigers something this team could use in 2018 and beyond.
Guillen is from Venezuela. So, too, is Cabrera. More and more, Latin players have become the backbone of Detroit’s roster, and nothing is likely to change in coming years.
A manager who knows the Latin players’ homeland, their culture, their language, could be vital. A manager who knows Cabrera and who respects him, who could delve particularly deeply into Cabrera’s immense intellect and emotions, could be a godsend.
It’s an idea, only. Avila might laugh at the notion. Guillen is not conventional and might, in fact, be the wrong man to guide a team that will require patience and, at times, a measure of diplomacy.
But this is a tough baseball town, Detroit. Folks know the game and like their managers on the hardcore side. They liked Billy Martin – for a while. They liked Leyland – for a while.
They would adore Guillen. And maybe longer than might be forecasted, given the eight seasons he spent in Chicago.
As for the man the new skipper will replace, if there was one surprise Friday it was that Ausmus has asked to finish the season.
Good for him. And good for the Tigers.
His decency, especially during these brutal weeks since the trade deadline, has been indelible. It’s reminiscent of the dignity with which Alan Trammell handled his last weeks and days as manager in 2005.
Ausmus will be on his way to happier days. He probably will manage again. His reputation in baseball is superior to anything the local Greek chorus would have you believe.
He’ll be fine.
And so, in time, will be the Tigers. This total renovation was necessary and will require some years.
But there’s a hunch it could be surprisingly interesting in its process, and in the new names that steadily arrive at Comerica Park.
The new names will include that of a new skipper.
“I don’t know that I have to totally explain the situation,” Avila said Friday. “The entire baseball industry knows this is not a partial rebuild.
“It’s a complete rebuild. Whoever comes in here won’t be coming in wide-eyed.
“It’s going to be a difficult process. But also a tremendous opportunity.”
A man named Guillen, among others, no doubt sees it the same way.