San Diego — A Japanese reporter Wednesday asked Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire if he liked Japanese slugger Toshitomo Tsutsugo. Gardenhire, though, misheard the question as, Are you interested "to go" to Japan.
“I am,” he cracked. “I would manage over there. If I get fired, you call me — which is probably a good probability.”
Gardenhire, coming off a 114-loss season, is entering the final year of his three-year deal in Detroit. There has been no talk of an extension, and he’s OK with that.
“Listen,” he said, “When you lose — how many did we say, 114? I didn't finish the season thinking, ‘Man, can't wait until they extend me.’ We talked about it and said let's give this time. We will talk at the end of the season or somewhere near the end of the season, and I will let them know whether I want to and whether they want to — it's going to be a mutual thing.
“I'm not worried about that at all. I've been managing a long time, and I want to see us win ball games. I want to have some fun shaking hands a little bit more, and then I'll know I'm doing my job.”
General manager Al Avila likes the year-to-year arrangement.
“Gardy’s a veteran guy, he’s been there and done that,” Avila said. “He’s at a stage in his career where that’s not going to bother him. For me, I’m comfortable with that, too. He doesn’t need to know, ‘I got three years.’
“In his mind, he wants to take this year and just see how it goes. He’s happy the way it is and I’m happy the way it is. He’s going to be the same guy, day in and day out. It’s a good relationship right now.”
Avila also dismissed any concern over Gardenhire’s lame-duck status.
“That’s never been an issue,” he said. “He’s a good manager and he knows what he’s doing. He can get players’ respect whether he has a one-year contract or a five-year contract.”
Gardenhire is 62, but his energy level is high and record aside, he and his staff did a masterful job keeping the players competing and keeping the clubhouse intact. That’s why he fought so hard to keep his staff which, though some are in different roles and bench coach Steve Liddle has retired, is intact.
“I think the biggest thing that we talked about at the end of the year is my staff worked really, really hard,” he said. “I just didn't feel like they should be punished by getting let go or anything like that.”
Lloyd McClendon moved from hitting coach to bench coach. Joe Vavra from quality control to hitting coach. Dave Clark will coach first instead of third and Ramon Santiago moves from first to third. Josh Paul, former Angels bench coach, will be the new quality control coach.
Rick Anderson and Jeff Pico remain the pitching coach and bullpen coach, respectively.
“The biggest thing for me was keeping my staff,” Gardenhire said. “I thought they worked their tails off and did a nice job and they stayed positive, and I think they deserve another shot at this.”
Rule 5 suspense
Avila said the Tigers had agreed on the player they'd take with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft Thursday morning — though he wasn't going to spoil the surprise.
"It's probably going to be somebody who can contribute next year," he said. "Not somebody we have to stash on the roster."
That would indicate they will draft a relief pitcher and not an under-developed position player. Two of the top relief pitcher prospects are right-hander Jordan Sheffield — a first-round pick of the Dodgers in 2016 — and right-hander Sterling Sharp, once a top prospect in the Nationals system who has battled an oblique injury.