Hear me out: a player-manager.
While it may be an unconventional idea, it could also be just the thing the Tigers need to usher in this new era of baseball in Detroit. Rather than being a new concept, it would actually be a pretty clever old-school move for the team, something that has fallen out of popularity after being incredibly common in baseball’s early days.
Some great names in baseball have served as player-manager: Cap Anson, Connie Mack, John McGraw, Ty Cobb, Joe Torre, Pete Rose, and more. For a brief time in 2011 the White Sox toyed with the idea of making Paul Konerko player-manager, but ultimately decided against it.
On the final day of the 2017 Tigers season, we saw Ian Kinsler take the reins from the exiting Brad Ausmus and manage the game. While no pitching changes needed to be made mid-inning, and no calls needed to be argued with umpires, there was definitely a sense of excitement in the air around the idea of Kinsler being at the helm of the team.
The Tigers are entering a period of intense uncertainty. Many of their stars have either been traded (Justin Verlander) or are in decline (Miguel Cabrera), and in the coming years we’ll see fewer and fewer familiar faces taking the field. The current managerial search seems to be focusing on all the usual suspects: Alex Cora, Ron Gardenhire, Fredi Gonzalez. Not particularly outside the box thinking.
There are problems with focusing on a typical kind of managerial candidate. The first being that most managers want to win. Winning looks good on their record, it reflects well on them, and it helps assure their future. It makes sense for a manager to want to win, but it also shouldn’t be the motivator for whoever takes over the Tigers next season.
The team isn’t going to be very good, that’s just the cold, hard truth. A rebuild is never easy, and rarely pretty, and whoever runs the team needs to know what they’re in for. Which is why a player-manager would be a smart fit. A player taking on a managerial role would want to win, of course, but there would be a different perspective on it. A guy who is still connected to the game will have a better sense of the immediate impacts of the game. He would be best suited to lend a guiding hand to the players making their debut from the minor leagues. The mentorship aspect would be much more present with a player-manager than with an old-school aging manager on the bench. The element of youth would also help new players relate to their skipper a bit better.
With this in mind, I propose two options to lead the Tigers in 2018.
Kinsler doesn’t seem like a likely candidate for this, simply because he’s still a viable trade option, only a season removed from winning a Gold Glove for his tremendous work in the field. While his bat wasn’t as hot this year, he’s still sure to draw attention from teams like the Brewers or Rays, who need a good second baseman and have an appealing farm system.
Kinsler has the kind of gruff, no-nonsense approach that would make him a good fit in a managerial role. He’s a natural leader, and the kind of player who would want to help shape a new up-and-coming team. He has already expressed an interest in staying with the club during the rebuild, and the player-manager role could let him test new career waters while also navigating the team through their first rebuild year.
Plus, watching him argue with umpires would be pure magic.
This might be a tough pill to swallow for some, but it would be a smart fit for the team. Avila has proven himself to be skilled at calling the game, at working with tense pitchers, and keeping things on the rails when they want to go south. He isn’t, however, as skilled at framing pitches as he is calling for them, so moving his skills more towards the bench might be a good move for the team.
Where Kinsler is more high-spirited, Avila has a level-headed calmness that might prove ideal. He’s likable, well-respected, and his history with the team would be invaluable. He knows baseball, and loves the franchise. Not to mention there’s a deep history of former catchers becoming major league managers.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that Avila will some day be a manager in the Tigers system, so why not get an early start and have him take the role, while also capitalizing on his improved batting from 2017?
While both of these options could be interesting and positive for the Tigers, it’s incredibly unlikely we’ll see either play out this coming season, or any time soon. The era of a player-manager seems to be behind us, and though outside the box thinking could benefit the team, the one place the Tigers don’t seem to be interested in innovation is when it comes to selecting their new manager.