DETROIT – Three years ago this month, the Detroit Tigers decided to part ways with manager Brad Ausmus.
The divorce was neither contentious nor unexpected. In many ways, it wasn’t even a layoff. Ausmus’ contract expired at the end of the season. Both teams felt that a fresh start would be ideal, especially in light of the Tigers’ new leadership.
Just three weeks earlier, the Tigers had traded star pitcher Justin Verlander. Lest there be any doubt the club were all-in on the rebuilding effort, the Tigers traded veteran outfielder Justin Upton on the same day.
“We felt it was a new start, a new beginning and we will have new leadership as we move forward”, CEO Al Avila said when he announced the change.
Ausmus agreed and said that even if Avila had approached him for a contract extension, he would have refused.
“Sometimes you have to be able to assess yourself,” Ausmus said. “I think this team and this organization are starting over and need a new voice.”
It was September 22, 2017.
Ausmus led the team until the last game on October 1. (The last weekend in Minnesota included the New for Romine Game).
Ten candidates were interviewed and Ron Gardenhire was introduced as the new manager on October 20.
This year’s research could follow roughly the same trajectory. Gardenhire announced his retirement on Saturday. The Tigers season will end on September 27 or 28.
The current COVID situation could complicate the interview process, especially for candidates who are part of the MLB playoff “bubble”. (And with 16 teams in the playoffs, there will be quite a few).
MLB generally frowns on releasing big news during the playoffs, but the Tigers were able to introduce Gardenhire during a gap between the end of the league championship series and the World Series. It could be more difficult this year, with no days off built into the playoff schedule.
So while the Tigers could announce their new skipper at the end of October – as they did three years ago – it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if that continued into November.
If the Tigers pick an internal candidate, like interim manager Lloyd McClendon, that timeline could be accelerated.
Avila has yet to speak in depth about what he will look for in a new manager.
Three years ago he pledged to be “open-minded” but also introduced criteria that would have excluded Ausmus when he was hired before the 2014 season: -league level.
Ausmus never held a full-time position on the pitch before being hired by the Tigers just three years after retiring as a player.
Gardenhire, on the other hand, has spent nearly three decades in the big leagues since retiring as a player and has scored more than 1,000 wins as a manager.
If Gardenhire were the anti-Ausmus, could the Tigers come back the other way this time around?
There are only 30 jobs like this in the world, so Avila and the Tigers will have no trouble attracting qualified candidates.
Here’s what Avila said three years ago: “I’m going to try to sell them on opportunity. Really, you’re going to be manager of the Detroit Tigers rebuilding with all the opportunities in the world ahead of you. You’re going to be able to go from there. bottom up, instead of picking up something that’s already there.
This year, part of the terrain will remain the same. The new guy will always have the opportunity to go from the bottom to the top. But now the teardown is complete.
The new manager is unlikely to have to endure a 114-game losing season, like the Tigers did in 2019, but expectations will also be considerably higher. The new kid on the block will not be able to play the “reconstruction” card when things go wrong.