I was taken aback by the rumors floating about Brad Ausmus' eminent departure from the Tigers. Someone in the front office is reported to have told a Detroit TV reporter that his days were numbered, but new GM Al Avila wasn't the source. For the moment, Ausmus has Avila's and owner Mike Illich's vote of confidence.
Emphasis on for the moment. He has one year left on his deal after this one (with a team option for 2017), so it would be a good time to either extend his contract or move on, lest he be a lame duck going into 2016.
The list of replacements isn't all that awe-inspiring. They could do worse than Lloyd McClendon, but they picked Ausmus over McClendon two years ago and unless Ausmus is mishandling the clubhouse, I don't see where making that change makes much sense. Ron Gardenhire wouldn't be a bad choice, but he doesn't seem to be that much of an upgrade, unless he brings something to the table that Ausmus doesn't have. Gardenhire made six playoffs in ten years, while Ausmus is one for two; 0.5 with two datapoints isn't that different than 0.6 in 10.
The big problem with the 2015 Tigers has been pitching and injuries. Having a shell of Victor Martinez at DH hasn't helped, nor did having Miguel Cabrera out for a month do wonders. Having Joe Nathan face one batter before being put on the shelf hurt, as did Verlander taking until June to play and August to find himself.
The #3 starter, Anibal Sanchez, has been either hurt or ineffective most of the time, while the #4 starter, Shane Greene, looked like an All-Star in April and looked like a AA-call-up after that. Alfredo Simon, who started the year as the fourth starter with Verlander out, has has very good days and very bad ones. Not bad for a fifth starter, not so good when he's been turned into the #2 starter at times.
Add to that was bullpen issues. Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy have been very good, but were often pitching well after the team lost the lead earlier rather than helping the team keep a lead. The guys that were supposed to be the set-up men, Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny, weren't preforming up to specs.
If Ausmus has a flaw, it seems to be having too much patience with incumbent players. Wilson and Hardy should have been the primary set-up guys by May rather than by August. However, as a fairly informed fan, I haven't had too many beefs with his decisions other than being too slow to get Victor Martinez on the DL when it was clear his left leg was not letting him hit properly.
The Tigers are actually five wins ahead of where their run differential would indicate they should be, so unless you can blame Ausmus for the bad performances of the pitching staff, he doesn't appear to be the problem. The swoon since the post-trade-deadline can be chalked up to the aforementioned injuries and the trades that sent off three All-Star caliber talents for prospects.
Going forward, the Tigers need at least two starting pitchers other than their prospects like Daniel Norris, a closer, and another left-handed set-up guy to complement Hardy. They also need to either get Victor Martinez back to his old self or find someone else to man the DH slot; if he's not healthy by November, Al Avila will have consider replacing V-Mart in the free agent market.
The Tigers have above average talents in right, short, second and first and average-but-growing talents in center, third and catcher. They have the nucleus of a good 7th and 8th inning team in the bullpen with Wilson, Hardy and Albuquerque and have a number of good starting pitching prospects that could fill the gaping holes in the rotation behind Verlander and Sanchez.
That seems to be more of a front-office issue than a coaching issue. Ausmus might be a bit too low-key and under-quotable for the writers and reporters to warm up to him, but he seems to know the game rather well. Also, the replay system has taken away a lot of reasons for hat-throwing, dirt-kicking tirades, since if a call was truly blown, the replay will back the manager up. Ausmus has been tossed a few times, often when he had a legit beef with how something was applied, but this new era doesn't lend itself to scenery-chewing rhubarbs as much as in bygone days.
If Avila and Illich think that a different skill-set or temperament are needed to turn things around, then changing managers might make sense. Finding replacements for Price, Soria and possibly Victor Martinez would be higher on my to-do list as a general manager then finding a new manager, unless they know something about the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the club that hasn't been noted in the media.