Given the nearly ready-made state of the Detroit Tigers to jump right back into playoff and World Series contention as soon as 2014 with a few bullpen fortifications, it only makes sense that their new manager should be someone who has the track record to make the team’s transition into the post-Jim Leyland era a smooth one, yes?
If that’s the case, you could argue that there’s really only one viable candidate available for the job: Dusty Baker, former manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
In fact, that Baker’s name isn’t generating more buzz around the league’s few managerial vacancies is a little surprising to this point. Yes, it might be the case that a skipper’s ability to affect a team’s on-field performance with tactical decisions is over-scrutinized and blown out of proportion, but even so, the task of managing a team full of highly-paid stars and the respective personalities that come with it is probably not the easiest job out there.
That’s why it’s easy to see the Tigers’ potential interest in promoting from within with current hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, as he’s someone that the players already know and respect.
However, given that the team has been through several close-but-not-enough runs at the World Series, is another first-year manager necessarily the best idea? While their experience with Leyland and recent examples (like John Farrell, for example) might suggest otherwise, a first-year man comes with its own perils — especially when the team has such high expectations going into the next season.
McClendon might end up being a fine manager, of course, and he could very well be capable of leading the team to contention. That said, the team’s core going forward is not as solid as it might seem.
Victor Martinez will be entering a contract year after 2014, and the team may end up trading Max Scherzer simply because they won’t be able to afford him in the long run. If they don’t, they’re looking at a potential wrench being thrown into the impending contract negotiations with Miguel Cabrera, who will be entering a contract year in 2015.
In short, there’s a lot that can change for this team within a year, which makes short-term success that much more pertinent for the incoming manager. How will McClendon respond if the team falls into one of its slumps and ends up a few games behind the Cleveland Indians in 2014? Does he have a system that the players will buy into in order to turn things around? Or will they simply assume that he’s an extension to his predecessor, thus diminishing his effectiveness as a manager?
Whether it’s fair or not, teams like the Tigers are sometimes best served by a big personality in order for things to evolve into the next level; and as far as old-school managers with big personalities are concerned, the team could do much worst than Baker.
No, he’s far from the perfect manager tactically and he’s never been to the World Series; but even with the collapses he’s seen as a manager and all of the jokes that baseball fans can make at his expense, the fact is that Baker led the Reds to respectability with two consecutive postseason appearances and a pair of divisional titles in the last four years.
So not only would a Baker hire mean a smooth change philosophically (whether that’s good or bad is another discussion, though I think most can agree that the Tigers aren’t suited for a SABR-oriented manager at the moment), he’d also bring a history of recent success that can come in handy when things are looking more down and up in a given season.
It’s inherently a people’s job, and while he may not be the best manager out there, Baker does appear to be the best fit for the Tigers opening. Having the right person for Detroit could mean the difference between a slump turning into the 2012 Boston Red Sox debacle or the team rebounding to still make the postseason.
And sure, Baker was fired because of a late-season slump that saw his Reds team eliminated at the Wild Card stage, but that he got them past game 162 in each of the last two seasons is something that most managers wouldn’t be able say, yes?