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Did Detroit's Next Manager Just Move to Arlington?

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Did the Detroit Tigers' next manager just take a job with the Texas Rangers? As Mike McClary wrote at The Daily Fungo, he and I have used up some bandwidth discussing who might succeed Jim Leyland once he decides to retire. Lloyd McClendon seems like a sure candidate, given his place on the staff and previous managerial experience in Pittsburgh. But that might also be assuming that Leyland would have a say in who takes over after he leaves.

From an organizational standpoint, however, it had appeared that former Tigers catcher Matt Walbeck was being groomed to someday manage the big league club after paying his dues in the minor league system. And that's who Mike and I figured would be Detroit's next top baseball manager. (Evidently, that wasn't nearly as original a thought as we might have guessed. Of course, it's not like we were discussing particle physics.)

Walbeck was doing a fantastic job within the Tigers organization. In 2004 and 2006, he led Single-A West Michigan to the Midwest League championship, also winning the Manager of the Year award in his final season with the Whitecaps. And after moving up a level to Double-A, Walbeck managed the Erie Seawolves to a division title this past season, also winning the Eastern League's Manager of the Year award.

Just last week, the Tigers announced that Walbeck would be returning to Erie for a second season. And after receiving a one-year extension from Detroit shortly after the season, Jim Leyland seemed to acknowledge that he might not see himself managing too much longer. Though a definite line of succession may not have been in place, a natural progression of events seemed to be in order.

But all that appears to have changed with Walbeck leaving the Seawolves to take a job as the third base coach (and catching instructor) with the Texas Rangers. Third base coaches and bench coaches seem to be apprenticeship positions for major league managing jobs, so it's understandable why Walbeck would take such an opportunity. Maybe he also sees a chance to succeed Ron Washington in Texas if his team struggles once again next season.

Walbeck says the Tigers encouraged him to take the job with the Rangers, likely understanding that his managerial star is rising while there doesn't seem to be a place for him with the big league club. Not only is Leyland in place for at least the next two seasons, but he already has an established staff of trusted assistants and confidants. Even if Detroit's front office loved him and wanted to keep him in the organization, Walbeck probably wasn't going to enter that inner circle any time soon.

So if Walbeck was to earn some major league coaching experience (which would surely make his resume sparkle even more), he'd have to do it elsewhere. And since there's only 30 of those third base coaching jobs available, when one opens up, pouncing upon it was probably in Walbeck's best interests.

Of course, this doesn't mean Walbeck can't be the Detroit Tigers' next manager. If anything, taking this job makes him a more attractive candidate as he learns more about the major league game, while surely establishing contacts and networks that might help him to assemble a top-notch coaching staff when the opportunity presents itself. He's most certainly worth keeping an eye on.