SPECIAL EDITION – Are you sitting down? If you haven’t heard, the Tigers have retained manager Brad Ausmus for another season. I know, pretty shocking. We haven’t heard news like this around these parts since, well, last year at this time.
So what’s new with the Tigers? That would be nothing, not a thing. But we’ve got a lot to say about nothing. Nothing is the biggest news of the day. No time like the present for a simple question. And our writers are ready with their answers.
What are your thoughts on Brad Ausmus’ one-year option being picked up by the Tigers?
BANKING ON BETTER DAYS
By: Kurt Snyder
As you can probably surmise, there is no surprise associated with this move. This was expected. It was expected months ago when Al Avila pledged his support for Brad, praising him for his performance and proclaiming him a great manager; one we were lucky to have.
He set the precedent last season when he decided Brad deserved another year given a 2015 season ravaged with injuries. And since 2016 was not lacking for injuries either, you had to expect for that reason alone, that he would be back once again.
The roster and the people missing from it for chunks of the season have once again handicapped Brad and his ability to manage the team effectively. These were key players we counted on for large roles who missed weeks of time. It was definitely a factor when you look back on a season so disrupted by inconsistency.
Is it the one and only factor to consider? No, I don’t think so. Even with injuries, there is still work to be done. There is still a team to prepare, to inspire and to embrace challenges in the face of adversity. It’s a fancy way to say: suck it up and move on, there is still plenty of talent here. Don’t give people a reason.
I have to wonder if Al Avila has considered all the factors necessary to make an educated decision. Next year, the team may be blessed with few injuries. You just never know. They sure are due to get a break on the injury front, aren’t they? But the Tiger veterans, their stars, will be another year older.
JV returning to form again in 2016, doesn’t necessarily mean he will have the same production next season. It’s a crap shoot with players in their 30’s. With Miggy healthy enough to put up Miggy numbers again, there is still no guarantee he can duplicate that performance in 2017. Rookies don’t come with guarantees of gradual progression, either. You hope for it, but it’s not a given.
What is a given is that the Tiger manager has demonstrated he needs work managing games and inspiring his team. And next season may be the season that we see it. Brad improved this season, no doubt. But he still has much to work on.
So it was the combination of his shortcomings and another injury-plagued season that contributed to another playoff-less season. And maybe that’s what Al Avila sees. Maybe he understands the shortcomings of a third year manager but still sees that improvement. Maybe he anticipates his game management and intensity are ready to bloom. Maybe better health combined with a few more roster tweaks along with the maturity of a manager will check all the boxes.
Maybe. And Al was so excited about Brad’s potential progression that he has opened the gates to a full one-year extension. A 4th-year option has been granted. Not a glowing endorsement. Just a hunch that things will get better, all while the best and most exciting players on this team get another year older, still waiting for that championship season to fall in their laps. But I fear that’s just not how it works.
In the end I hope a fourth year is what Brad needs for things to click. He’s been given another chance to hone his craft and Al had better be right.
IT DON’T COME EASY
(with apologies to Ringo Starr)
By: Holly Horning
First of all, I’m not surprised by the decision, especially after last year’s action to keep Brad despite a last-place finish. And I base my opinion upon the statistical, the practical, the historical and the intangibles.
I do agree that injuries were an issue and factor to some degree, and that it was fair to give some credit for that to Brad. Using injuries as a yearly excuse is another matter and something I won’t discuss in this blog. Add to that, the standings. You’d be hard-pressed to find a manager who was fired for finishing in second place.
As for the practical, I don’t believe in making a change simply for making a change. You gotta have a good, solid solution in hand before making a switch. Otherwise you may find yourself jumping from the pan into the fire. The managerial pool as it stands now is rather slim pickins’.
And despite Al Avila stating that he prefers going year-by-year – which is merely a diplomatic deflection – the trend with managers is awarding them a 3-4 year contract. And I checked – there are no current managers who go on year-to-year contracts as the GM stated in his rationale. Bud Black turned down the Nationals’ offer because it was a 2-year contract and not long enough. The Nationals weren’t willing to go longer for any candidate but Dusty Baker accepted 2 years because he desperately wanted to return to managing.
Avila’s longer-than-necessary explanation of the 1-year only action was his attempt to quell any thinking that the Tigers weren’t “all in” on Brad. Part of the entire Tigers organization’s m.o. to avoid controversy at all costs.
So, in other words, hastily hiring another manager, who may not be ideal and who will be on the books for multiple years, is something many GMs want to avoid.
Retaining Ausmus also offers Avila protection as he gets up-to-speed and tries to recover from some bad acquisitions. A number of former GMs have pointed to this strategy of managers being human shields for the GM. If things go bad, the manager gets fired. Once he’s gone, and things remain bad, then it’s the GM who comes under greater scutiny.
But while Avila has a contract that runs through 2020, all that may change if Chris Ilitch or a new owner take over.
And then there’s the corporate culture. The Tigers are not a bold organization. They were once when they hired Sparky but that was the exception. They hang onto stuff and people way past the expiration date and are one of the very last teams to adopt new ideas and technology. So we shouldn’t be surprised here.
They are also incredibly loyal to employees – past and present. They are the Ellis Island for former managers. What other teams collect the “huddled masses” of former managers, mostly failed, and give them a life-long home and employment? They’ve got 6 of them! Release Brad? Not in their genes.
(Btw, I’m currently reserving my opinion on Al Avila as a whole until we complete the next Hot Stove season. Everyone in a management position gets one free year – or slightly more – before I make my honest assessment of their work. I gave it to Brad and I’ll do it for Al.)
But picking up the one-year option does create three big questions.
The first indicates that the Tigers have doubts about Brad as their long-term manager. Most teams tack on at least a year to that option. This appears to be more of a strategy to keep the status quo while they either wait for a better option and/or a quick way to achieve maximum flexibility and an optimal situation when the right moment and person arrives.
The second concern involves the coaching staff. Will they stay or will they go? We’re hearing that they will remain but that could simply be a statement to preserve dignity. Keeping Brad but with improvements in the one of, if not the oldest, MLB’s coaching staffs would be a good signal. Keeping everyone in the same job, despite visible and long-lasting problems, would not.
And that would be a huge concern indicating that the team is prepared to do the same old thing and hope for the best. We can only hope for some “retirements” or coaches deciding that they needed to “spend more time with the family.”
But the final concern is something that doesn’t necessarily involve the retaining of the manager. We’ve been told year after year that the Tigers are in “win now” mode. Mr. I told Al at the end of last year “to put the pedal to the metal – hard.” Nothing like that has been heard so far this year.
What if the Tigers understand that they are now in a partial rebuilding mode? What if they understand that competing seriously for the title requires a couple more years at least? What if they aren’t telling the fans this? It’s certainly logical. Give fans a solid reason for attending “must see” games and nothing inspires attendance more than saying “this is the year.” Even when it’s not.
Attendance is crucial to the Tigers. They have the second highest committed payroll after the Dodgers at over half a billion dollars. They need to fill the stands in order to meet their payroll. And actually, payroll has exceeded revenue for over 10 years.
So if any of these are true, then maybe Brad is the best choice. For this year, that is.