December 4th, 2012
Remember that coaching staff shuffle that Jim Leyland hinted at after the World Series but wasn’t ready to announce? The question came back up Tuesday, and they announced it. Gene Lamont will move from third-base coach to bench coach for next season. Tom Brookens moves from first-base coach to third, and infield coach Rafael Belliard takes over first-base duties.
The shift, Leyland emphasized, was not a sign of Lamont’s decision-making, despite the second-guessing Lamont faced for a handful of calls this season. His decision to wave Prince Fielder home in Game 2 of the World Series, in particular, drew scrutiny. To Lamont’s credit, he took responsibility for it at the time, saying he was overly aggressive on the call.
“I can promise you it was not related to that,” Leyland said. “I think Gene Lamont is as good of a third-base coach as anybody in the American League. Terrific judgment. Terrific. But it might be time for him to come over to the bench with me and put Brookie out there.”
The decision, Leyland said, was about getting somebody younger in the role, which a look around the league suggests is increasingly becoming a younger coach’s job.
“This will be another mind for me to bounce something off of,” Leyland said. “But most of it’s because Brookie’s a little sprier right now.”
Lamont and Belliard were the two coaches who had been in the same roles for Leyland’s entire seven-year managerial tenure in Detroit. The other Tigers coach who dates back to Leyland’s first season in 2006, Lloyd McClendon, went from bullpen coach to hitting coach in 2007.
In none of those seasons did Leyland have a bench coach. Lamont essentially filled the role while still coaching at third. When Leyland was ejected from games in recent years, McClendon would take over as manager.
On the surface, it seems like a logical match. The Tigers, for better or worse, have been looking at a potential defensive upgrade at shortstop and could swap out Jhonny Peralta to do it. The Marlins have two shortstops, no third basemen and are entertaining offers for Yunel Escobar.
Logistically, it makes sense, but word from multiple sources is that the Tigers aren’t interested, or at least don’t see a fit for him in Detroit.
From a pure baseball standpoint, you can make a case that Escobar is a better buy than free agent Stephen Drew. Escobar has had a higher Wins Above Replacement total in five of his six Major League seasons, including each of the last two. His lowest game total in a season over the last five years is 133 in 2011. Offensively and defensively, you know what you’re getting, though this was his weakest season at the plate. He’s under contract for $5 million next year, and he has a pair of $5 million club options after that.
It’s off the field where the appeal really wanes. He was suspended by the Blue Jays late this past season for a homophobic slur written onto his eye black, and he’s going to have to live that down for quite a long time, wherever he is. The Tigers just parted ways with a player whose off-field issues made headlines, Delmon Young, so there’s reason to wonder whether they would want to go through that again.