Jim Leyland is now a part of Tigers' history. It was quite a tenure that brought the Tigers to the post-season several times and on the cusp of ultimate glory twice. A few days will be spent reminiscing about his time in Detroit but very quickly, if not already, the discussion will turn to a successor.
What conditions would give the next manager his best opportunity to flourish? Let's look into that a bit. It could be very beneficial for the next manager to be overshadowed by roster movement this winter to really make the changing of the guard more complete and put an official end stamp on the "Leyland Era." I'm not saying the Tigers "should" make roster changes with making life easier for the new skipper as the impetus for the move... I just wonder if the next manager would be in a less stressful spot being part of greater flux and change instead of being the sole new factor. If a manager newbie like Brad Ausmus were to land the job, would he better off taking over the status quo from this season or a roster infused with some new faces beside him taking the field?
The news of Leyland stepping down as manager of the Tigers puts a final stamp on the 2013 season. A season which had plenty of triumphs to celebrate but came with a bitter end that left many feeling empty and unfulfilled.
That comes with the territory of winning consistently. The value of winning in the regular season goes down due to expectancy. "AL Central champs" starts to lose its appeal eventually if the next step isn't taken. The cost of failure in the post-season grows as many fans and analysts look for the really big flag to fly that says "WORLD SERIES CHAMPION" and not another flag for a divisional crown. This is now going to be the situation inherited by Leyland's successor.
What kind of situation is best suited in 2014 to set this new manager up for success? Obviously adding key pieces to a contending outfit to bullet-proof the roster for the post-season would be ideal, but that can be a tough little nut to crack. Are the right fits going to be on the market this winter for president and general manager David Dombrowski to corral to augment a veteran team with plenty of entrenched talent already on hand? That remains to be seen.
The roster is the question of the day however. Would a re-shuffled deck best suit a new manager? Especially an "outsider" type of selection who will be looking to prove himself in his new environs.
When you look at the Tigers' core you see a highly-paid group of star talent. Much of that core has been together for two-plus seasons. This isn't a group that's likely to be overly impressed by any hire the Tigers can make. If the Tigers make an "in-house" selection of Lloyd McClendon, Gene Lamont, or Tom Brookens, perhaps the established core nods, yawns, and goes back about their business. But a new person is going to be in the spotlight and under the proverbial microscope. This scrutiny will come from the players, the media, and eventually the fanbase. (I say "eventually" as there will be a grace period most likely from the vociferous "anti-Leyland" factions....eventually these folks will have a new target. That's how baseball fandom works. It isn't just a Detroit thing.)
If an outsider wins the job it could be this person's good fortune if Dombrowski also maneuvers into a large deal or two this winter to shake up his roster in search of building another contender that shores up the weaknesses shown in 2013 and a roster that is sustainable for several seasons coming down the pike. A roster shake up will put the new manager a bit in the background as the new players get a large share of the scrutiny. They are on the on field after all ... and that can get picked apart. This would give the new skipper time to get his feet on the ground and establish himself in the clubhouse. Roster moves will also enable the new manager to possibly shake up the lineup if he sees fit by giving him the excuse of needing to integrate the new faces.
This wouldn't be a shake up merely for the sake of a shake up. The Tigers have a contender on their hands. You can't be too crazy either to blow a chance to win. However they have so many players who are on contracts that will be expiring in 2014 and 2015. They are almost inevitably going to need to make some moves in order to extract value before losing some of these players or committing to bloated contracts to keep them.
Who are we talking about? The list has been hashed around in dozens of articles already and on message boards. Rick Porcello. Max Scherzer. Austin Jackson. Doug Fister. Victor Martinez. Prince Fielder. (Miguel Cabrera? BANG! I was nearly just struck by lightning for suggesting it! Must have been a freak Iowa T-storm or something. Kidding, Baseball gods, I was only kidding.) Only Fielder on this list has more than two years of club control remaining. It seems highly unlikely that the Tigers can commit to keeping them all around. Someone is getting moved eventually. The question is "when?" The sooner they get moved it can be argued they have more value as they come with more control for the acquiring club.
Then it just becomes a matter of degree. A trade of Rick Porcello could bring back something pretty nice, but perhaps not enough to put a new stamp on the roster. But dealing Max Scherzer? That's another animal. The right club might be tempted to pay a premium, especially if there is an possibility of signing him to an extension. The Tigers would be subtracting a likely Cy Young winner from the rotation, but probably adding some rather tasty assets to the roster. This would put a different face on 2014 for the new manager to blend quietly in.
Plenty of observers would welcome a Prince Fielder deal after a rather ordinary "Prince season" in '13 and a disastrous postseason that saw him make a lot of outs or get soft hits. He was basically "Wee Willie Fielder" hit ‘em where they ain't style. Obviously if Dombrowski could extract himself from the Fielder commitment it would be a work of Promethean thaumaturgy. There simply wouldn't appear to be many suitors at this time to take on that commitment after a down year.
Yes, the Red Sox moved their bad deals to the Dodgers last year. Vernon Wells was dealt twice. Anything is possible. Fielder seems set in stone for now from this view however. It would free up cash to spend on Cabrera and Scherzer and a position to move Cabrera to, which would open the door for a more athletic third baseman. But it seems far-fetched to dream about with seven years to go on the Fielder mega-deal. That is a free agent decision that will be owned by the Tigers, not rented.
However there will be deals out there. Make no mistake. Change is coming at some point with the Tigers roster. Will refiguring start this off-season? If it does, the landscape changes for the new manager as well. Dombrowski is not a "sit on his hands" GM. He is proactive. He is relatively fearless if he finds a deal he feels is right. If the next manager is from outside the organization and maybe even in his first gig as a skipper, it might be smart for that guy to hope Dombrowski cobbles together that mega-deal somewhere to shore up his long term roster. That will give the new guy plenty of cover as all the pieces assemble in Lakeland in mid-February.