There was a certain finality to Franklin Gutierrez's grand slam in the eighth inning of Tuesday's heartbreaking 11-9 loss to the Seattle Mariners. What once looked like a potentially season-changing comeback win -- shut up, we all thought it -- turned into yet another late inning collapse, the likes of which we have seen far too often over the past few seasons.
This year's version of the Tigers has been particularly infuriating. After a rash of untimely double plays early in the season, the offense has turned into a behemoth. However, their Sisyphean efforts have been undone by a pitching staff with the second-worst ERA in the American League. Only the Boston Red Sox, the league's worst team, have given up more runs.
The Tigers are already fighting an uphill battle with the Kansas City Royals refusing to lose lately, but in-house issues are making any potential playoff run even more difficult. Brad Ausmus is struggling to put his players in positions to succeed, and his bullpen management has ranged from questionable to downright malicious. His comments about his in-game strategy on Tuesday raise a valid question: is Ausmus in over his head? Will he be around in 2016? How patient is owner Mike Ilitch going to be with his young skipper?
To make matters worse (for 2015), the Tigers may sell at the trade deadline in hopes of competing in 2016 and beyond. Dave Dombrowski is playing his cards close to the vest, per usual, but with his contract set to expire at the end of this season, questions are beginning to arise about his future as well.
@blessyouboys Do you honestly think Ausmus will be fired. If so who takes over? Bud Black? Gardy? Vizquel?— Kyle Willaert (@KyleWillaert32) July 22, 2015
Despite the Tigers' underachieving ways, the odds of Brad Ausmus getting fired in the middle of the season are quite low. A mid-season change is possible, but I only see two scenarios where that takes place. The first one is if Mike Ilitch orders a managerial change. He is the boss, after all. The second is if Dave Dombrowski (a) knows for certain that he will be back in 2016 -- we'll get to that -- and (b) thinks that a new manager would be able to lift this Tigers team to the playoffs. Neither of these scenarios seem all that likely, but I have a hard time seeing a situation where Ausmus returns in 2016 at this point.
The next Tigers manager will depend a lot on who is doing the hiring. It seems like it would be difficult to stomach another rookie manager after what we've seen from Ausmus over the last season and a half, so Omar Vizquel seems like an unlikely choice. The two seem different now, but remember that Ausmus checked off all the same boxes that make up an attractive managerial candidate when he was hired. The Tigers will likely opt for someone more experienced. If I had to choose between Bud Black and Ron Gardenhire, though, I'd pick Black. He did some nice things with some truly awful San Diego Padres teams -- seriously, how did this roster win 90 games? -- and I'd be interested to see what he does with some real talent.
@blessyouboys do you think the Tigers will extend DD's contract? Should they? Who would be a good GM replacement? (sorry that's 3 questions)— MotorCitySportsTalk (@MCSTdotcom) July 15, 2015
I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where the Tigers tell Dave Dombrowski to hit the road. Keep in mind, I'm also not a billionaire who owns a sports team. They're a special breed, and even the most normal and benevolent rich old coots can make weird decisions. Also, as I've written before, it's possible that Dombrowski moves on to take another job, especially if Major League Baseball offers him something with more flexibility and down-time. Weekends are nice, you know.
General manager contracts don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Dombrowski has worked through the end of his deal twice before without so much of a whisper of controversy (though the 2006 and 2011 seasons helped). There has been speculation elsewhere that he may look to the vacant president and general manager positions in Anaheim or Toronto, but both of those situations appear to be far more hostile than what he has here in Detroit. Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto resigned because his manager was able to undermine him, and the Toronto ownership group has been reluctant to open their pursestrings despite also owning the largest media conglomerate in Canada. They have deep pockets, and the Blue Jays aren't seeing as much of that coin as they could be.
That said, the Detroit job isn't as cushy as it appeared three or four years ago. Mike ilitch is 86 years old, and the team is in need of a major overhaul if they are going to avoid a rebuild in two to three years. This may be a tough sell for any current GM looking to add the "president" title to his résumé, and the hot assistant GM candidates -- Chicago Cubs vice president Jason McLeod is drawing some attention in Seattle -- may be reluctant to take on such a massive project.
@blessyouboys everyone's frustrated. My question is, as more and more likely sellers, what would an A+ deadline look like?— Jacob Powers (@myjakeisname) July 22, 2015
Whether the Tigers buy or sell at the trade deadline, I would like to see them do so at full throttle. This doesn't mean BURN IT ALL and enter the baseball equivalent of the dark ages, but a true deadline sell should involve shipping out any and all pending free agents. Ideally, David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria, Alex Avila, and Rajai Davis will all be wearing new uniforms on August 1, with plenty of young, cost-controlled talent coming back in return.
This is a lot to ask, though. Teams are as stingy as ever when it comes to trading their top prospects, and we've been on the right side of some very lopsided talent-for-prospects trades in the past. The Tampa Bay Rays got what appeared to be an underwhelming return for Price last July, though Willy Adames is shooting up prospect rankings with a solid season in High-A ball.
In a perfect world, the Tigers would net the following return at the trade deadline: an MLB-ready starting pitcher in the Drew Smyly/Andrew Heaney mold, an MLB-ready outfield prospect with modest upside -- recent Cardinals call-up Stephen Piscotty is a nice comparison -- and a reliever or two, along with a couple lower level prospects. Ready-made replacements for Price and Cespedes are necessary, as those are the two biggest holes the Tigers will be looking to fill this offseason.
@BYBRob How bad do you think JV needs to get before we start talking about him for closer?— Mark G Sands (@sharkmgs) July 20, 2015
A lot of things would have to go wrong for the Tigers to think about moving Justin Verlander to the bullpen. We've seen some rough stretches from him in the past couple seasons, and there hasn't even been a whisper of him losing his job. This makes sense, given his incredible peak and tantalizing upside. We saw what he did against the Minnesota Twins before the All-Star break, and it's not hard to see him stringing together a few starts like that. I don't know if the "spring training mode" tag still applies to him, but he was a notoriously slow starter earlier in his career. With the team currently spinning its wheels, this is probably the best time to let him figure things out.
The only way I see the Tigers moving Verlander to the bullpen is if he gets injured. Hall of Famer John Smoltz was moved to the bullpen following Tommy John surgery in 2001, and spent four years there before returning to the rotation in the twilight of his career. If, heaven forbid, Verlander suffers a similar fate, the Tigers may make a similar move.