Note: This was written before the playoffs started and even though Leyland knew he was retiring, we had no insight and this was more of a 1 to 2 year plan for replacing him, assuming he’d retire in the next year or two. Some of the Managers listed have been retained by their clubs and are not options anymore.
No matter your opinion on how quickly Jim Leyland should be replaced, he will be sooner rather than later due to many factors. Leyland turns 69 this offseason and had already walked away from the game once before due to feeling “burned out” so how long he wants to manage is a legitimate question to ask.
Leyland is also a polarizing figure amongst fans wanting a World Series Championship, he has been unable to deliver upon that despite wild spending from the front office to continually improve the roster, the idea that Dave Dombrowski is keeping him on a short leash is not out of the question.
However, whether he wins the World Series and rides off into the sunset on his own, simply retires or is forced out, trying to picture Leyland as the manager in 2016 or beyond is not that easy. So, to be prepared, unlike after Sparky Anderson retired, would be very wise for the Tigers so they aren’t left in the cellar of the division for another decade.
What should the Tigers do today to address the possibility that Leyland is close to moving on? Bring in a bench coach that isn’t one of Leyland’s own assistants to be involved with the day to day of the team, to help with a seamless transition when the day comes.
There are a few options in the coming offseason and potentially after next season that could fill this role for the Tigers that would please the fan base to know a transition plan is in place (because if Gene Lemont is up for the Manager opening after Leyland, I’ll flip out):
Brad Ausmus: if you know me, this is not a surprise, I have been yelling about Ausmus for Manager for years and think that the former Tigers, Padres, Astros and Dodgers Catcher is the cream of the crop of new managers in baseball. A man that struggled to hit above .200 for years yet was so valuable defensively and with his ability to manage the pitching staff he hung around for a decade longer than he should have. Ausmus has a bright managing future and should be considered before another team hires him for the same role.
Matt Walbeck: Walbeck was a rising Managerial star in the Tigers system before his career path was derailed after a stint as the Class A coach in the Braves system in 2011, but was a two time Minor League Manger of the Year before that. This is the type of candidate that can not only take over, but during time as a Bench Coach can develop relationships with the players and learn from Leyland to be more prepared for the role.
Ron Washington/Mike Scioscia/Ron Gardenhire/Kirk Gibson: All four are currently being retained by their current teams (for now) for 2014, but are all on very short leashes with higher expectations than performance on the field recently. But, each is at least 12 years younger than Leyland and proven winners, all with higher winning percentages than Leyland, they would be more of a friend/similar style transition to new manager than the previous two options, who would be first time MLB Managers.
Eric Wedge/Other Also-Ran Manager: This is not the ideal option, but I still view bringing in Eric Wedge or another, former successful (at least going to the playoffs) manager as a bench coach and POSSIBLE replacement is a better idea than not having anyone in there. In this case, I think the Manager opening should be more open than a set “this guy is the replacement” like the other options.
So, there you have it. Putting a transition plan in place that isn’t Gene Lemont or Lloyd McLendon is probably a very good idea for the Tigers and they have options to ease the transition. I’ll be surprised if this occurs, as Leyland is VERY particular about his staff, but I think Dombrowski should put his foot down and tell Leyland its going to happen.