DETROIT -- Many expected Brad Ausmus to be fired after the 2015 season. The opposite happened. General manager Al Avila, in a press conference before Saturday's game, announced that after he'd considered all aspects of the decision, wanted to keep Ausmus as the team's general manager.
"I was taught a while back ago," Avila said. "Jim Leyland was actually the one who told me this. He said, whenever you make a decision to change a manager, do it right then and there and don't wait. So whenever you make a decision, period, take action. The decision was made. Took action. That's the way I was taught and that's the way I did it."
The decision was made after two months of assessing the team, the decisions made by Ausmus, and counsel sought by those in the front office -- to include David Chadd, John Westoff, Scott Bream, former manager Jim Leyland, and Al Kaline. The goals will remain the same next year, as are the expectations for Ausmus. To get to the postseason and win the World Series.
The following are some of the topics discussed regarding the decision to keep Ausmus as manager of the Tigers.
What led to the decision to retain Ausmus?
"My main thing is, and I know where the criticism is, my thing is, I believe Brad has the talent, the know-how, to lead and mentor the young players that are on this team," Avila said. They've shown great improvement, guys like James McCann, Castellanos, Anthony Gose, these guys have improved under Brad and his staff. We got a lot of pitchers also, that have improved. He also had the respect and the backing of the veteran players on this team. So, that combination to me, tells me that Brad is the right man to lead this team into next year. This team as you've noticed has not given up, they've played hard, they're continuing to try to win every game they can. They've never given up."
This decision was kept under a tight lock and key. There was no leak prior to the announcement. When Ausmus met with the media on Friday, he again was met with questions on who to blame for the season and he advised that the blame be pointed at him as he's in charge of the team. In retrospect, that statement was a dulled blade as Ausmus was told Friday morning that he would remain as the team's manager.
The team has made mistakes, Avila and Ausmus both acknowledged that. There's expectations going into the next season, and while he wouldn't go into the specifics, Avila said he'd already given Ausmus a list of what he wanted accomplished for the team. Guidelines to be followed. Avila has been rather pointed about his intent to be more attune to sabermetrics, so that may be an aspect that follows.
Being that the team is carrying more young players on the team this year, Avila and Ausmus recognized that mistakes are a more common result of that, but both fully expect those players to learn from mistakes -- the Tigers' awful baserunning has been an example of that. As for Ausmus, he said he wasn't really surprised either way, but he was relieved and "happy" to be back. Ausmus admitted the season has definitely been a disappointment and hearing through rumors that he was going to be fired wasn't easy at first, but he went back to the core of the team being able to bounce back from that.
"Initially when the story breaks it's a little tough, but I'll be honest with you it's been business as usual," Ausmus said. "We're prepared exactly the same way. I can't control what's written. After talking with Al (Avila) about it, he said it didn't come from them. I knew that baseball operations people, of course Al (Avila) and Mr. Ilitch, would make the decision. And I just continue to do my job. I said I would do my job until they ask me to leave or until my contract expired, and that's what we'll continue to do. But we do expect things to be better in 2016."
Was owner Mike Ilitch on board with the decision?
"Mr. Ilitch left it up to me, and I made the decision," Avila said. "I called him, I said, ‘Mr. Ilitch, I'm going to keep Brad Ausmus.' He said, ‘God bless you, move forward.'"
What are the expectations going into the 2015 offseason and how important is this decision for the offseason?
"Very important, because we obviously need to add some players now, going into the season," Avila said. "Once the season's over, going into October, we'll have our major league staff come in, we'll have our special advisors in there, too, and we'll go over every single organization. We'll figure out where some possible trades could be made, we'll rank all the free-agent guys we may be interested in out there, and we'll try to acquire some of the players that we need additionally to make this team a winning team next year.
"Thank goodness, though, we feel like we have a good core of players here that are a mix of some veterans with some nice young players that are up and coming. That core is very important, because you can't create a whole, brand new team. We have the basics, the core players here to start that process of just adding a few more to have a winning team."
The team will continue its track of reloading. It will not be rebuilding. Players like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, McCann, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, and Ian Kinsler, will become crucial to ensure accountability on the team. Baserunning mistakes and mental errors are part of the game and Avila acknowledged as much, but they're rookie mistakes and shouldn't happen as much as they did this year. With that said, even veterans of the game make mistakes, Avila said.
Why was this announced now instead of before when the rumors were circulating?
"When Mr. Ilitch put me in this position as general manager, he basically let me make the decision," Avila said. "I said, ‘Well, let me take these two months to make this decision. I will evaluate this.' He allowed me to make the decision. This is my decision. I talked to him (on Friday). I was getting closer to thinking this way. You had to weigh out a lot of things, the positives, the negatives. So there's a lot of things to think about, up and down the system. I even thought about things in the minor leagues, and how they would be approached at the major league level."
Avila also pointed out how much the Tigers' minor league system is in disarray because of how much the team has had to call up minor league players prematurely this year -- and before. It's cut off their development and dried up the system to an extent. That's true of a lot of teams these days. Teams will call up players, rush them into major league production when they've not been afforded the opportunity to grow into their own person at the minor league level. That carries a certain weight with it.
How has Ausmus improved as a manager from when he started in 2014?
"I've been observing Brad for two years, and I can tell you that, yeah, at the very beginning, he was a rookie manager. He is no longer a rookie manager. And I can tell you right now, from first-hand experience, he prepares exhaustively. Nobody's going to prepare more than Brad Ausmus and this staff, because I've seen it. ... What we've added now to this major league club, as far as statistics, analytics, the preparation just to go into the game, Brad physically has gotten involved with each player -- McCann, Gose. I mean, he goes out there and he works with these players, hand-in-hand in trying to get them better. So it's not that he's teaching from a distance, he's actually in there with them.
"I can tell you he prepares better than anybody I've, I mean he really works hard at preparing before each game. What people don't understand is, when we hired Brad, he and I had talked one on one quite a bit about what we felt, what I felt, what some people felt, we needed (out of) the leadership role on this club. And one of it was that he himself had to personally get involved in the teaching of these young players. And he has. ... I know how he comes out and works individually with each player. In that batting cage, he takes a personal approach to each guy. Those are things that I look at.
"The most important time is, when things are going bad and the s*** hits the fan, let's just say, OK, now let's see what these guys are made of. That's when the real inner person comes out. And he has shown me that he is calm, cool and collected and has continued the course, continued working through all kinds of stupid s*** that's been going out there. And that's what has impressed me. That's impressed me."
The team's baserunning has been a big problem with the team this year, what is your assessment in that respect?
"You have to understand one thing: It starts from the minor leagues to the big leagues where you teach baserunning, you teach base stealing, you teach other aspects of the game," Avila said. "That has not stopped. In our meeting, we've addressed it where we acknowledge in today's world, today's baseball that there's young players being pushed to the big leagues probably a lot sooner than they should be here. We're a perfect example of that. We've got Triple-A pitchers that have not had good seasons in Toledo pitching at the big league level. I can acknowledge that right now. We've had players come up from Toledo that have not had good seasons in Toledo come up and play. So we're force-feeding here."
Now, with that said, it's on the players themselves to perform. A team can teach until the cows come home but if the players don't apply themselves then it will all be for naught. The Tigers have a huge laundry list to check off, including reinforcing the starting pitching and fixing the bullpen ... again. Restocking the farm system. The team needs to be healthy -- they were far from it. Injuries to Verlander, Alex Avila, Joe Nathan, Sanchez, Cabrera, Victor Martinez, to name a few, stalled the team's consistency. It forced the team to use players who shouldn't have been in Detroit yet. But stuff happens. Time to buckle down and get back to work. This is the Tigers team and it's not going to change anytime soon.