Brad Ausmus enters the upcoming season, the final year of his contract, essentially a lame duck manager. The Detroit Tigers manager enters the 2016 season trying to improve on a lackluster 2015 season, after making the playoffs in his first year. The Tigers went from American League Central champs in 2014 to last place in 2015.
Ausmus was retained by general manager Al Avila in September, amid a lot of rumors that he would be let go after the 2015 season. Now, to complicate things further for Ausmus, the Tigers hired former Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon to manage the team’s Triple-A Team in Toledo.
McClendon interviewed for the Tigers manager spot after Jim Leyland retired at the end of the 2013 season, as well as Ausmus. Then GM Dave Dombrowski ultimately went with Ausmus. Now, things are different in the Tigers front office; Dombrowski has moved on to Boston, and Al Avila is running the show. Avila and McClendon have a good working relationship, as McClendon spent seven seasons under Leyland as a bullpen coach, and then a successful hitting coach, while Avila was an assistant to Dombrowski.
The second year for Ausmus was definitely more challenging than the first. He lost Max Scherzer to the Nationals, lost Yoenis Cespedes and David Price at the trade deadline, and had to deal with injuries to the Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, to name a few. However, his managerial record is 164-159, which is unacceptable for the Tigers and their $170 million plus payroll.
Complicating things even further, there has been no hint at extending or discussing extending Asumus’ contract past the 2016 season. It is not common for a major league manager, who has stints with multiple clubs (Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates) to accept a job as a Triple-A manager, which could lead some to think that Avila and McClendon have potentially discussed him being promoted to the Tigers manager after the 2016 season if the Tigers have another lackluster performance.
General manager Avila told James Schmehl of mlive.com, “Truth be told, I didn’t think (McClendon) would take the job because he’s been in the big leagues a long time. For us, it’s a great situation because now we have a very experienced manager in Toledo.”
Tigers Vice President of Player Development Dave Littlefield was responsible for hiring McClendon at Toledo. Another interesting twist to this is that Littlefield was the GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001-05 when McClendon was managing the Pirates.
In order for Ausmus to survive the entire 2016 season, he is going to have to manage the pitching staff better. The Tigers could arguably have the best rotation in the division with Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and now Jordan Zimmerman. In 2015 the Tigers pitching staff finished last in the AL with a 4.64 team ERA. He is also going to have to manage smarter on the base paths. For much of last season, the Tigers were on pace to set a record for double plays hit into. Late in the season, Ausmus tried to adjust, but Tigers base runners then were being thrown out on caught steals at a high rate.
This upcoming season for Ausmus will certainly be one where he is literally managing every day for his job. The margin for error will be very slim. And to top it off by having McClendon waiting in the wings, looking over your shoulder will undoubtedly add some pressure.