While even successful teams continue to shuffle their coaches, scouts, front office, and player development personnel, the Detroit Tigers have largely kept the band together through two seasons of terrible baseball. But there are some changes in store for 2020. The team announced on Thursday that they have cut ties with Toledo Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz a year before his two-year contract was due to expire.
Mientkiewicz joins Luis Lopez, who managed Gulf Coast Tigers East in rookie ball this season, as the only two managers fired, but their respective departures aren’t the only changes as the Tigers begin setting the stage for their 2020 campaign. Former bench coach Steve Liddle retired at the end of the season and will be replaced by long-time hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. Former quality control coach Joe Vavra inherits the job of head hitting coach, a role he held for numerous seasons in his days with the Minnesota Twins. Double-A hitting coach Brian Harper, who had previously held the position of Mud Hens pitching coach, was also released along with a few other minor staffing changes.
The decision to fire Mientkiewicz seems a bit of a contentious one, with him questioning the Tigers reasoning according to Lynn Henning of The Detroit News.
“The only thing is, you (Tigers) hired me because you said I had the potential to be a big-league manager. You give me a two-year deal, and the next year you fire me.
“You can’t be this reactionary during a rebuild,” he said of the Tigers’ big-league reconstruction, which depends primarily on talent rising from the farm system.
The only motivation for the move, or criticism offered of Mientkiewicz’s work in Toledo came from general manager Al Avila, who cryptically cited discipline as the reason for the move without any elaboration.
A minor league manager isn’t going to be judged by their record, but despite little in the way of true prospect talent, Mientkiewicz produced a record of 139-140 over two seasons, and led the Mud Hens to an International League West title in 2018. More damning, perhaps, were the defensive mistakes and offensive struggles of promoted prospects such as Jake Rogers and Willi Castro, as well as the stalled progress of Daz Cameron in 2019.
Speculation immediately turned to Double-A Erie SeaWolves manager Mike Rabelo as Mientkiewicz’s replacement. The Tigers promoted Rabelo to Erie from Advanced-A Lakeland last offseason, in part to keep a consistent voice in the ear of top prospects like Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Isaac Paredes, and Alex Faedo as they were promoted to Double-A.
However, Littlefield demurred on Rabelo, suggesting that the Tigers want to see which managers may be available as other teams retool their major and minor league coaching staffs.
“We just decided to move in a different direction,” said Littlefield, who also shot down notions that Double-A Erie manager Mike Rabelo might be moving to Triple-A Toledo.
Littlefield said the Tigers will inspect the market, wait for a series of big-league openings to be decided, and make a decision on Toledo’s manager once other jobs are resolved.
Whoever the Tigers decide on, they will be in an interesting spot managing many of the organization’s top pitching prospects in 2020. As a well regarded former major leaguer, Mientkiewicz seemed to have the general pedigree of a manager suited to refining young pitching prospects. Finding someone with the right combination of skills to help many of the team’s top prospects make a successful leap to the major leagues will be the key criteria as the Tigers’ front office evaluates candidates for the vacancy.