The Detroit Tigers are caught in a very difficult spot with their search for a new manager. Just one day after Jim Leyland stepped aside, fans and media across Michigan have frantically begun to assemble their wish lists. Fortunately for all of us, Dave Dombrowski had a six week head start as Leyland told him he was done back on September 7th.
The timing of this particular search is already off to a rough start. Tony LaRussa, an obvious match, has been on record multiple times saying he’s finished as a manager. It will be hard, if not impossible, to change his mind. Ron Gardenhire, a man revered by the Tigers’ organization, just re-upped with the Twins. The Tigers barely missed here.
Had Leyland declared his end a year earlier, then Terry Francona, without question, would currently be at the helm of the Tigers’ All-Star laden squad. But alas, what turned out to be Leyland’s lame duck year prevented this perfect match from happening.
Fan favorite Kirk Gibson has just one year left on his deal as Arizona’s manager. You would think a guy who recently saw his club turn down the two option years left at the tail end of his deal would be open to considering a move back to his hometown. So far that does not appear to be the case as Gibson said he wants to stay put and finish out his deal.
Regarding Gibson, it seems as though Arizona would oblige the Tigers if they wanted the interview. So far that hasn’t happened. One year later and this would be a slam dunk. One year later not just because Gibby would be a free agent, but if GM Dave Dombrowski does ascend the ladder all the way to the commissioner’s office, the past friction between he and Gibson would be a non-factor in this decision.
Some of the above names may resurface as Dombrowski squares up his target, but for now, no obvious candidates have emerged.
The first two names I heard yesterday were Dusty Baker and Charlie Manuel. Baker has already played politician and said he’d be honored. I’m sure he would, but I don’t see that happening. Baker and Manuel are about as close to Leyland as you can get in terms of age and resume. I don’t see the Tigers making a lateral hire here. I see them getting a little younger and a little more energetic.
Dombrowski places high value on prior MLB managing experience and he’d have to look no further than his own dugout to find two candidates who would jump at the chance to slide into Leyland’s vacated office. Both Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon have held big league gigs. Neither went particularly well. Their familiarity with the Tigers is an obvious plus but something tells me that this manager search will result in a clean sweep of the clubhouse, or something very close to that. Gene and Lloyd (and possibly even Tom Brookens) will get a look, but I think Dombrowski goes elsewhere.
A slew of candidates currently holding the position of Bench Coach include Alan Trammell (Arizona), Torey Lovullo (Boston), and Tony Pena (New York Yankees). Before you finish rolling your eyes at the thought of Trammell getting another look, all three of these guys should be in consideration. Tram was dealt a tough hand in his first go-around as Tigers manager. He’s older, wiser, and would inherit an extremely talented club. The point is this: Dombrowski has no clear choice, so he must consider all options.
Finally, a name that has me and some of the folks on my inner circle intrigued is that of Brad Ausmus. Ausmus, a former Detroit Tiger, has no MLB managing experience, which is a clear negative in Dombrowski’s book. However, he did manage Israel’s team in the World Baseball Classic and is currently a special assistant for the San Diego Padres.
Ausmus was a 3-time Gold Glove winner at the position most likely to succeed as a big league skipper – catcher. Ausmus spent 18 years behind the plate managing a pitching staff and perfecting the nuances of the game. He also won the 2007 Darryl Kile award handed out for integrity and courage. He’s a high-character, high-intelligence guy cut straight out of the Mike Matheny cloth, resume included. And how has that worked out for the St. Louis Cardinals?
The list is long and confusing at this point. And as we know, Dombrowski has a way of sneaking up and surprising us with a trade acquisition or free agent signing that was way off the radar, and the same could apply here with his complex managerial search.
One thing is for sure, the Tigers need someone who can quickly pick up the ball and run with it. The Tigers feature a distinguished cast of talented players smack dab in the middle of their primes. The World Series window is currently wide open, but it won’t last forever. And for that reason, Dave Dombrowski’s most important task as Tigers GM rests front and center.
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