And we thought new Detroit Tigers general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila would be different and more sabermetrically-oriented than previous club head honcho Dave Dombrowski.
After hearing the club is retaining Brad Ausmus as manager for the 2016 season, I guess the initial answer is “no.”
Was this really a decision made by Avila because he thinks Ausmus has done enough to manage out the rest of his contract in Motown? More than likely, such is not true. Instead, he heard the rumblings that Bernie Smilovitz of WDIV-TV – the local NBC affiliate in Detroit – and other media members had spread about Ausmus being given his walking papers at season’s end.
Eventually, Avila decided enough was enough and felt the need to put the rumors to rest.
But instead of doing the logical thing and firing the second-year skipper after another year of several in-game miscues, Avila reversed course by guaranteeing him a third year on the job.
Prior to the announcement on September 26th on Ausmus’ future, the Detroit skipper was walking on “eggshells” in the locker room and had little to no job security.
It painted a negative portrayal of how the club handles its in-house matters, and my conjecture is that Avila believed it signaled a negative start to his tenure as Tigers’ front office boss. In order to prove that he is in control and is out in front on all club matters, Avila did the former Detroit catcher a solid and made a decision that put the best interests of the baseball club he oversees on the backburner.
The decision did not involve choosing the best “baseball man” to lead the franchise in 2016.
Instead, it involved getting back at and getting the best of the media, which had prematurely reported something that had been floating around the organization for days and weeks.
It left a stench behind, which Avila knew he had to rid the organization of before the end of the season. It was a stench which proved to be so potent that it tugged at the power held by the 57-year-old Cuban native.
So, in a power-hungry move, Avila did what nobody thought he would and opted to give the 46-year-old New Haven, Conn., native the opportunity to finish out his contract.
It was, by far, the unpopular thing to do in the eyes of the Tigers faithful. However, it is not a decision that single-handedly eliminates the club’s chances of contending next season.
Ultimately, a team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot comes down to the talent on the field – something that the franchise has lacked over the course of this season more than in recent memory.
It would not be far-fetched to say that the club has been talent deprived in 2015, especially when you look at the number of pitchers who have taken the mound to begin a game – 12 starters in total.
And out of the Mostly Dreadful Dozen, only three have made more than one start and recorded an earned run average below four on the season – Justin Verlander, trade deadline casualty David Price and prized deadline acquisition Daniel Norris.
If that wasn’t tough enough to swallow, then take a look at Detroit’s bullpen, which has seen 11 guys make at least 18 appearances. That’s right – 11 relievers who’ve seen significant action.
Of those 11 relievers, only three have recorded an ERA of three or below – Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy and Drew VerHagen.
If you didn’t already hear, one of these 11 pen arms was so bad that he had to be sent home because of a lack of energy. Of course, I’m talking about the hard-throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon, who has been the closer-in-waiting for the organization for too long now without following through on that promise.
Rondon’s troubles were the cherry on top for the Tigers’ woes this season as a pitching staff, which has posted an American League-worst 4.69 ERA (which ranks 28th in baseball).
With all that being said, not even a veteran manager like Ausmus’ predecessor Jim Leyland or longtime Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire could have managed his way out of this dumpster fire. Even promising managers withe great minor league pedigrees like Wally Backman would flinch at the sight of a pitching staff like the ’15 Tigers have had.
Not to mention, further fuel was added to the fire when middle of the order bats Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera plus frontline arms Anibal Sanchez and the aforementioned Verlander served prolonged stints on the disabled list.
Verlander, for one, did not make his first start of the ’15 campaign until June 13th and failed to record his first win until after the All-Star break on July 29th.
As much as Leyland is revered — and rightfully so by a good portion of the Detroit fanbase who saw him manage the club from 2006-13 — “Smoky” would have encountered his own lumps with this year’s ballclub and too many of them to get the team into postseason contention, especially if Price and Yoenis Cespedes – arguably the two best Tigers in the first half – would have still been dealt at the deadline.
It’s why the onus is on Avila to make the right moves to get the club back into contention in time for Opening Day next April.
It means he has to add a closer and another reliever who is either a proven middle-innings guy or a setup man if Wilson is deemed incapable of serving in such a role. Also, he must add at least one #2 or #3 rotation arm, such as a borderline ace in Kansas City’s Johnny Cueto or a lower end #2 in the White Sox’s Jeff Samardzija.
It’s simply what the Detroit front office must do along with adding a corner outfield bat – preferably a left fielder because J.D. Martinez has settled so well into playing right field – in order to make the franchise relevant in the immediate future.
If Dombrowski’s former right-hand man does make such moves this offseason, Ausmus will get no pass from the organization’s higher-ups if the major league club fails to get it done on a consistent basis next year.
And if the struggles persist, much like they have in ’15, Ausmus will instantly become the fall guy, and this time Avila will have no choice but to do what he should have done already: cut the cord on the Ausmus experience.