Earlier today, the Tigers officially announced that they will be picking up their option on Manager Brad Ausmus for the 2017 season.
Ausmus has been highly criticized from fans throughout his short career, starting in his first season, 2014, when he made some odd pitching choices in the Tigers Playoff series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Opting to not start David Price in Game 2 of the ALDS that year led to a mini-fan revolt & almost every move has been placed under a microscope ever since.
Admittedly I WAS a Brad Ausmus fan, I was excited when they Tigers hired their former catcher as the man to replace Jim Leyland just after the 2013 season, however, that opinion has since changed.
I do not currently believe Brad Ausmus is the man to take the Tiger to the World Series that Detroit is craving so badly.
After an up and down 2014, 2015 ended quite poorly, with the firing of long time President & GM, Dave Dombrowski and selling anything worth a damn at the trade deadline, many believed Ausmus would be fired after that season.
Somehow, Ausmus stayed and after another season of every move being criticized, the Tigers could have walked away from Ausmus and moved this team into the 21st Century even more by hiring one of the 5 or 6 “Sabermetrics” Managers available (former Tiger Gabe Kapler, Alex Cora, Dave Martinez, etc…).
Instead, the Tigers decided to exercise their option for a 4th year on Brad Ausmus contract for the 2017 season & many fans are not happy. I am here to tell you why this isn’t a bad decision. I am not here to tell you it is the right decision. I am not here to tell you it is a good decision, but that it is not a BAD decision.
I am not going to spend a lot of time re-hashing the 2016 season, falling short of the playoffs, the missed games from catalyst, Cameron Maybin, JD Martinez, Nick Castellanos and Jordan Zimmermann or the early season struggles of Justin Upton. The up & down year for the bullpen & the lack of consistency from the starting rotation outside of Justin Verlander or Michael Fulmer.
You can defend Ausmus from a viewpoint of, “Only finished a game out of the playoffs with that many missed games?” stance, but if you spent a decent amount of time watching the Tigers this year, then you know they should have made the playoffs & been competitive with the Cleveland Indians in the Central, but neither happened.
Now, looking forward to a 2017 with much of the same in place, why should the fans expect anything different out of the Tigers with Ausmus still at the helm?
Well, you can believe that spending a little bit of money on some veteran bullpen arms & a little bit of luck in the health department will give the team those 2+ extra wins to reach the playoffs or you can believe that the team will fall apart under Ausmus’ leadership & limp their way to 75 wins.
Either scenario is just fine with Al Avila, the Tigers GM that just exercised his option on Ausmus.
The optimistic Tigers fan can go ahead & believe that this team, with the bloated payroll & aging core can keep it together for 1 more year, which I believe is possible. Justin Verlander has re-invented himself as a “Pitcher” and not just a “Thrower” as he used to be. Another year of development for Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris & Matthew Boyd should pay even more dividends for this team in 2017.
The line up with another year of development from Nick Castellanos, JD Martinez & a full year of Justin Upton not adjusting to a new league could in itself provide the 2 extra wins they need to reach the post season.
That is before an upgrade in the bullpen once again. There will be a clear sign from the Tigers this off season, what they believe will happen in 2017, simply based on whether or not they hand out 2 or 3 Relief Pitcher Free Agent contracts. If Avila pays out to upgrade the bullpen in a favorable market, than you can go ahead and try to believe that the Tigers are indeed, trying to win in 2017.
However, keeping Ausmus & not spending any more money on Free Agent pitchers or a back up catcher will be an indication that Avila is putting the 2017 season fully on Ausmus & his leash will be short.
This view point is not a bad one either.
If you think Ausmus is incapable of managing a team to an extra few wins and the exact opposite happens, that he costs his team a few wins, then the future of the Tigers could still be bright as well.
After 2017 the following players will (most likely) see their time in Detroit come to an end:
- Anibal Sanchez
- Ian Kinsler
- Cameron Maybin
- Justin Upton
- Mike Pelfrey
- Francisco Rodriguez
- JD Martinez
- Mark Lowe
That is quite a list of players. The potential payroll commitment right now, for the start of 2018 is $120 Million. $55 Million of that is for Justin Verlander & Miguel Cabrera.
One thing you can be sure of, if the Tigers are not playing well approaching the 2017 trade deadline, Al Avila will SELL, SELL, SELL & let Brad Ausmus walk after that season (if not before the end of it).
The Tigers best move, if they are not competitive in 2017 is to PIVOT (sorry to steal a current political term and/or a Technology Project Management term) and sell everything not nailed down in July 2017.
What do you think a closer like Francisco Rodriguez, with no commitment past that season could bring in? Ian Kinsler & his cheap 2018 Option? The inside track on re-signing potential free agent slugger JD Martinez or Justin Upton?
Ask the Reds what they got for a sort of OK, kinda good sometimes, but ultimately not that great Jay Bruce (remember that the Tigers got blossoming Ace Michael Fulmer for Yoenis Cespedes just last year)?
The Tigers could go into 2018 with no extra money going to a manager, hire a new manager that gets a say in how to fill the 2nd base, RF, CF, LF, multiple bullpen positions & a few spots in the rotation with just about $120 million committed.
Not only that, the Tigers could use the 6 to 10 prospects they get from trading off assets (JD Martinez & Ian Kinsler could get a VERY nice return, in particular) to fill a few of those openings either from filling an opening with a prospect or trading for an established big leaguer, something the Tigers could once again be willing to take on with a significant drop in payroll.
Bringing back Brad Ausmus was not a great decision from Al Avila. I believe that with the right manager & a little extra spent on the bullpen, this team could compete in 2017 & Brad Ausmus is not that manager to get them in the playoffs.
But, I do believe that hedging your bets between a possibly “OK” manager & the potential to shed payroll & stock prospects is not the worst decision made on the Detroit sports scene recently and could even prove to be a pretty decent decision.