November 6th, 2013

Leyland on McClendon: There’s no mixed emotions

Jim Leyland stayed out of the Tigers’ hiring process for his replacement, as he said he would. All he said on his way out at his press conference last month was that he felt like Lloyd McClendon was ready to manage again.

McClendon didn’t get the chance to manage in Detroit. His opportunity in Seattle seems no less satisfying for Leyland.

“Oh, I’m thrilled. There’s no mixed emotions,” Leyland said Wednesday evening in a phone conversation, having just returned from the Tigers organizational meetings. “It’s a great opportunity for him with a lot of big arms out there. I think they have a great chance to get good quick.”

Short of McClendon getting a chance in Detroit, the result was about as well as Leyland could have hoped.

While Leyland talked only once with Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski over the course of their hiring process, and that time only at the end, he didn’t talk much more with McClendon. They chatted twice by his count, though he has been in touch more since the Mariners made their hire.

“I’ve been through that process,” Leyland said. “It’s hard to stay calm during that process because you’re on pins and needles. A lot of times, these things take time.”

While Leyland was finding out about Ausmus’ hiring and driving to Detroit for meetings, McClendon was interviewing for a second time in Seattle. He found out about the M’s job soon after McClendon did.

“Things really worked out great,” he said. “Gene’s back in Detroit [as Ausmus’ bench coach]. Mac got a manager’s job. The Tigers got an outstanding guy. I’m happy. You just hope that the other guys all land on their feet, but it really worked out good. I think Dave made a really good hiring and Brad made a very good hiring, and Mac’s managing.”

Leyland, meanwhile, is consulting for now. The Tigers’ newest special assistant was part of their organizational meetings for three days, which gave him his first chance to talk with Ausmus since he got the job.

“We had several quick conversations,” Leyland said, “and it was really good. I just left it like, ‘Look, Brad, I’m available anytime. If you have any question, feel free to call me anytime.’ I really enjoyed it. I was really impressed with him. When we left today, he said he’d be calling me.”

Jones back as pitching coach, Dave Clark at third base

Jeff Jones is staying. Actually, the Tigers pitching coach never thought about leaving. As long as new manager Brad Ausmus wanted him around, he was on board.

It didn’t take long for Ausmus to realize he was a guy worth keeping. Less than 72 hours after Ausmus was introduced as Detroit’s new manager, Jones was re-introduced as the pitching coach in a press release, along with new third-base coach/outfield instructor Dave Clark.

“I never really thought about [leaving],” Jones said Wednesday from his Detroit area home. “I’m perfectly content here and I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to stay. It’s a difficult situation for a young manager, and I knew Brad from when he played here.”

Two of Jones’ five stints as Tigers bullpen coach coincided with Ausmus’ second tenure as a Tigers catcher, so there was a working relationship between the two. While Ausmus wanted to talk with Jones first before selecting his pitching coach, he was believed to be the leading candidate, not because of their history but because of the Tigers’ pitching dominance under Jones’ leadership.

It’s no coincidence the two talked on Sunday night, just a few hours after Ausmus’ first press conference.

In 2 1/2 seasons as pitching coach, Jones has overseen a Tigers rotation blossom into baseball’s best. He has been a mentor for Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, and became a trusted voice for Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez after they came over in midseason trades.

“He does a terrific job,” former manager Jim Leyland said earlier this year. “He’s like a mother hen to them; he protects them. He’s a nice buffer between me and the pitchers, which is very important. He’s very supportive of me and my decisions. He’s really done a whale of a job, to be honest with you.”

Jones doesn’t believe inexperience is going to be a huge issue for Ausmus.

“I really like Brad,” Jones said. “He’s a great baseball guy and obviously a very intelligent guy. I like his intensity. I like everything about him. He played the game and he played hard. He played with a desire to win.”

Clark joins the Tigers from Houston, where he spent this past season as first-base coach under Bo Porter after spending four years as the Astros’ third-base coach. He was let go at season’s end and was on track to return to managing at Double-A Huntsville in the Brewers farm system before he had two chances to join a big-league staff.

“We played together in Houston,” Ausmus said in a text message. “He was also a manager in the Astros organization when I was still playing there.”

While Clark was in talks with the Tigers this week, he also was expected to get an offer to join Seattle under Lloyd McClendon. Clark was McClendon’s hitting coach in Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2002. After finding success managing in the Pirates and Astros farm systems, he joined Cecil Cooper’s staff in Houston in 2009 and carried over to Brad Mills’ staff.

Clark also has ties to Leyland, playing 4 1/2 seasons with the Pirates as part of a 13-year Major League career.

The moves leave the Tigers needing at least one hitting coach — they had two last season — plus first-base, bullpen and infield coaches. Though Ausmus has now kept two coaches from Leyland’s staff, he’s expected to look at other candidates for the remaining spots.

Asked if he hopes to finalize his staff soon, Ausmus texted: “Working on it.”

Scherzer to MLB Network: No talks on contract extension

Max Scherzer made an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning program and talked on a wide range of topics, from new manager Brad Ausmus to what went awry in the playoffs. He said Ausmus called him earlier this week and introduced himself and he was impressed.

“He called me up the other day and I talked with him for a bit,” Scherzer said. “I think we made a great hire. For him, his pedigree speaks volumes. He caught in the big leagues for 18 years. I think with his knowledge of the game, he’s going to be able to fit right in for us and take us where we need to go.”

Whether Scherzer actually makes a start for him, of course, remains to be seen.

Scherzer is staying out of speculation over a potential trade, saying that’s part of the business. But he also said that there are no talks going on about a contract extension, at least to his knowledge.

“We really haven’t had too much talk previously about an extension,” Scherzer said. “Taking care of one this offseason, really I haven’t even approached it. I haven’t even stepped back and thought about it, just because we’re not at the right time to discuss a contract. I’m sure something can be talked about throughout the winter.”

Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this fall that he anticipated talking with the Tigers about a potential extension this offseason. Boras has a well-earned reputation for believing players, especially pitchers, should test the free-agent market when they get close to free agency, a factor that played into the trade that brought Scherzer to the Tigers four years ago (Detroit strongly believed Edwin Jackson was going to test the market in a couple years). That said, Boras pitchers have signed extensions ahead of free agency, Jered Weaver being a notable example.

Fitting a potential Scherzer extension into payroll is another matter, which is why it wasn’t lost on reporters have team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said unprompted that they have a surplus of starting pitchers.

“We have some pieces we need to fit together. I mean, we do have six starters at this point,” Dombrowski said Sunday. “People are aware of that, with [Drew] Smyly being available to start.”

Ken Rosenthal, part of the Hot Stove show, said earlier in the show that the Nationals are looking for an elite starting pitcher and could be a good fit for a deal, because of their depth in young power pitchers and their strong relationship with Boras (gee, that sounds familiar).

Scherzer tried to downplay the speculation.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I understand the business of the game and the reality of the payroll. And so, I mean, I get it. But at the same time, for me, I want to be a Detroit Tiger. I’ve been in Detroit for four years and we’ve had a great run. With all the friends that you have on the team, you just want that to continue, so hopefully it can.”

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs

mcclendonMuch like Frasier Crane picking up after Cheers and moving to Seattle for his own show, Lloyd McClendon is off to to the Pacific Northwest for a well-deserved second shot at managing. Like Frasier was to Cheers, a spinoff but a completely different show and tone, McClendon is likely not going to be a simple continuation of Jim Leyland’s era in Detroit.

When he talked about the Tigers opening two weeks ago, he talked about being his own man, being himself, taking lessons to heart that he learned from Leyland but not simply trying to copy him.

“Obviously when you have an opportunity to work with one of the best in the game, you’d be a fool not to learn something,” McClendon said last month. “That has certainly been very beneificial to me. My aspirations are hopefully to manage again, but at the same time you have to be your own man.”

Eight years as a coach alongside Leyland, seven as the hitting coach, “certainly confirmed my convictions as far as how you go about your business, preparation, knowing your opponents, using that to your advantage, knowing your players, knowing their capabilities, what they’re capable of doing and what they’re not capable of doing. And above all your leadership skills. Be yourself.”

McClendon has long wanted to manage again, which is why he probably cringed over the years when the Tigers would play Pittsburgh and he’d see the highlights of his epic rant at PNC Park, pulling out first base and taking it with him on his way out after an ejection. He knew that couldn’t help his cause, no matter how much fans talk about wanting a fiery manager.

frasier2He came close in Seattle a few years ago, losing out to Eric Wedge, but he had the hope of being considered Leyland’s successor in Detroit. He had to be crushed when the Tigers went with younger, less experienced Brad Ausmus over the weekend, but he had to focus on his second interview with the M’s. As low as it had to be, losing out on the shot to manage the team he knew, getting a chance to manage a Mariners team with a chance to build has to be an emotional swing. Even with a general manager in a contract year, there are worse fates than to get a second chance with a rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, not to mention several young hitters who haven’t hit near their potential yet.

He doesn’t get a ready-made, veteran laden team for the World Series, but he gets a chance to build in a division that, while immensely talented, isn’t like Sisyphus trying to roll a boulder up a hill. There’s room for upward mobility, as the M’s showed simply sticking within sight of .500 until September.

A lot of fans in Detroit wanted McClendon to suffer for the Tigers’ hitting struggles, especially in the postseason, and that’s fine. It wasn’t for a lack of work on his part, but it was a bottom-line type of season here. Game managing and being a hitting coach are two different skill sets, though, and other than connecting with players, I never quite understood the correlation people held so closely between the two. Larry Parrish is a tremendous manager at Triple-A and a veteran judge of talent, but he did not end up being a good hitting coach in Atlanta. Leyland couldn’t tell you much about hitting and techniques, but he knew what he wanted to do with the hitters he had. McClendon knows how to recognize changes and patterns in the swing, and he had inifinite patience to work with guys if they were willing. He also did a ton of work breaking down video. Now we’re going to see how he handles a game again.

To answer the next question, I do not know how many — if any — of his Detroit colleagues he might bring with him. It would seem like a safe bet that if the Tigers don’t keep Jeff Jones as pitching coach, he should have a spot in Seattle with another impressive group of arms.