Yesterday, we tackled the question of Brad’s decision not to move Victor Martinez down in the order. And once again, fans, not just us, pointed out that it was yet just one more example of Brad being stubborn or incapable of using his gut to determine when changes need to be made.
But what if everyone is wrong? What if there was actually another motive behind the non-action? Let’s explore….
A recent discussion on radio came back to me as I was writing yesterday’s blog. It was about the changing dynamics within a baseball team and all due to the money players are making. Money that gives them a bigger say in how things are managed.
Gone are the days when the manager made the most money and ruled the roost. He told players what to do and they feared being punished by getting on his bad side. The manager had the power and also the ability to provide feedback to ownership about which players should return – and who should go.
But with the significant ascent of players’ salaries over the past decade, came another benefit. Power and influence. Their paychecks exploded while managers saw a drop in theirs. There are less than a handful of managers who make $3 million or more per year with the rest making somewhere around or below $1 million. Including Brad.
Owners, having made these huge investments, certainly want these expensive players to remain happy. Thus it’s become habit for these players to be consulted on all major team issues that would impact them. New players, moving positions, play time, current players – and their managers.
Wonder why certain beloved players have been traded away? You’d be surprised to know that it wasn’t necessarily due to talent or contract. You’d also be surprised to know that some of the stars flexed their financial influence and gate draw to hasten some of these departures.
Matt Williams, former manager of the Washington Nationals, was fired after the 2015 season primarily because he had lost the confidence of his players. A number of their top performers met with ownership to express their unhappiness. And Williams is only one of a number of managers who have fallen victim to the preference of players, not owners or GMs.
Earlier that year, we witnessed the ongoing saga of Victor Martinez and his inability to swing a bat, let alone run. The man was in obvious pain, not producing a single hit at the plate and obviously a slam-dunk candidate for the DL. Yet, he continued to play and fans screamed. Everyone wondering why Brad did not do the deed. It was obvious to everyone.
Then, the infamous midnight meeting between Mr. I, Dave Dombrowski, Brad and Victor happened. And lo and behold, VMart went on the DL within hours. Sometimes it takes a village, especially when it includes the owner.
Couple this with other multiple examples of players who didn’t want to listen to Brad. JV’s epic rants on the mound and dugout trashing when he didn’t want to leave the game. David Price’s disappearance and AWOL status in the middle of a game. The dugout disagreement with Rajai Davis. Most of them examples of the expensive stars of the team unhappy with the manager’s decisions and pushing back.
You would think that the Tigers had learned their lesson when they hired Alan Trammell, a first-time manager to take over a team that was starting to add star power. Players, like Pudge, savaged him. And when you make an insane amount of money in comparison to your manager, have star status and are one of the team’s faces, it’s really not a fair battle, is it?
The Tigers have once again put themselves into a similar position with their expensive stars and newbie manager, Brad. If you are the owner, who are you going to back? The guy with the long-term mega-millions contract or the guy on the short-term, “inexpensive” contract? The marquis player who may just not perform as well because he’s unhappy and may spread his unhappiness in the clubhouse? I think we know the answer to this one.
So while the early days may have been about Ausmus having to earn his street cred as a manager, this year is about something else. His contract. His single-year option was picked up late last year without the typical 1+ year extension.
This is it for Brad. At the All-Star break, he officially enters lame-duck status. That is the drop-dead deadline for managers to be signed for the coming year. Without a new contract in the second half, players historically tend to start ignoring the guy running the ship.
All of this helps explain Brad’s “non-move” moves over the years even though most thought they were warranted. Allowing both Miggy and VMart to avoid the DL despite the obvious signs. Not benching Upton during his horrific slump until very late in the season. Not removing KRod as closer until it was painfully clear. None of it easy. None of it done cleanly. And all of it still open for review according to the manager.
All done because Brad was stubborn? Maybe not.
Maybe he ignored necessary moves in order to keep clubhouse harmony. Maybe he delayed making changes for as long as possible in order to maintain the goodwill between himself and the players. And maybe he knew that some of these players were so focused on themselves that they wouldn’t consider putting the team above their own interests.
And maybe he knew that in a power struggle, he would lose.
Maybe he did what he did because he wants a new contract. By all accounts, the players like Brad. He is a likeable guy. And when you like someone, chances are that you want to bring them back.
But the real question is whether the team respects their manager. Liking and respecting are two different things. Respect involves a much higher bar and making some tough decisions that players may not like but end up understanding why they need to be made.
Are the Tigers capable of putting aside their personal interests for the good of the team? That’s a bigger question and one best reserved for another day.