So, that enormous cloud of smoke on the horizon? Yeah, that would be the firestorm of hot takes, angst, and in some cases, relief, from around the Detroit Tigers' fanbase and media. Al Avila announced on Saturday afternoon that Brad Ausmus and his entire coaching staff will return for the 2016 campaign.
The news came as a complete shock to most observers. Several weeks ago, reports surfaced of a leak within the Tigers organization who claimed the decision to fire Ausmus had already been made. The obviously erroneous and now discredited rumor went as high as WDIV's Bernie Smilovitz, who reported it on the air as though it were highly credible. Given the brutal season the Tigers and their fanbase have endured, it certainly seemed a near certainty that Ausmus' tenure as manager would expire a year before his contract did.
Yet, there were reasons to be skeptical as well. Any dispassionate observer recognized that the Tigers' ugly season was mainly the result of injuries and the inability of former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski to rebuild the Tigers' pitching staff last offseason. The fact that Dombrowski was unceremoniously dumped after the trade deadline, while Ausmus was not, may have been a clue as to where owner Mike Ilitch placed the blame.
To be sure, Brad Ausmus has shown numerous weaknesses as a manager, from his bullpen strategy, to his inability to get his team playing smart, fundamental baseball, particularly on the basepaths. But, it appears that new general manager Al Avila approves of the approach Ausmus and his staff are taking to address those issues. Reviews and reaction will no doubt continue to pour in over the weeks to come.
"He is deeply flawed as a manager for many reasons, which I’ll summarize here."
-Neil Weinberg, New English D
Al Avila Fails His First Test - New English D, Neil Weinberg
Of all the voices to weigh in on the return of Brad Ausmus, Weinberg, who writes for Fangraphs as well as his own blog, New English D, was the most vehement in opposition to Avila's decision.
"At least he’s not Matt Williams," the Brad Ausmus story.— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) September 27, 2015
"The fact is, this season ceased to be about Brad Ausmus the moment Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals in January."
-Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press
Tigers right not to give up on manager Brad Ausmus - Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom
In Mitch Albom's view, the roster was too fragile to begin with, and thus expectations were always too high for the club in 2015. When you factor in injuries and a revolving door of not-ready-for-primetime pitchers, the seeds of disaster were sown by circumstances totally out of a manager's control.
5 reasons Al Avila gave for retaining Brad Ausmus as Detroit Tigers manager | Chris Iott, MLive.com
Chris Iott of MLive distills Al Avila's press conference down to its essence, the basic reason while Avila is comfortable with Ausmus at the helm in 2016.
#Tigers announce that Brad Ausmus and staff will return. The improvement of young players this year likely a big reason why.— Mario Impemba (@mario_impemba) September 26, 2015
tigers announce that brad ausmus will be back managing tigers in 2016. bit of a surprise, but think thats the right move.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) September 26, 2015
"(By firing Brad Ausmus) They also would have been bowing to a certain populism, tempting for sure, given that plenty of ticket-buyers have made clear they would prefer a new skipper in Detroit’s 2016 dugout."
-Lynn Henning, Detroit News.
Tigers take high road by retaining Ausmus - The Detroit News, Lynn Henning
Lynn Henning's take on the decision focuses more on the Tigers resisting the popular move, what it says about Al Avila as General Manager and the organization's future.
Despite reassurace, Brad Ausmus not taking job for granted - Detroit Free Press, George Sipple
George Sipple compiles quotes from Ausmus' players and coaching staff in support of him. Ausmus himself talks a bit about the change in media since his playing days and the challenge of being in the hot-seat.
The most encouraging part of this announcement is that it feels like an Avila decision. Not Ilitch.— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) September 26, 2015
If you’re angry about the Ausmus news, consider that Ned Yost, Mike Matheny, and Terry Collins are all in line to make the postseason.— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) September 26, 2015
No, it's not Brad's fault that he's given lousy players, but it's definitely his fault for leaving them in the game beyond all logic.— Patrick OKennedy (@Tigerdog_1) September 27, 2015
Meanwhile, after the Lions' season went up in flames in just three games, Detroit sports fans are in a dark place right now. Red Wings, anyone?
Brad Ausmus Announced As Detroit Lion's Offensive Coordinator.— Alex the Quail (@AlNormQuail) September 28, 2015
Remember when Brad Ausmus was gonna shore up the pitching and Jim Caldwell was gonna eliminate mental miscues and penalties?— Matt Johnson (@mrjumd) September 28, 2015