While Miguel Cabrera waits to find out whether he’ll be the first back-to-back American League MVP since Frank Thomas two decades ago, he can take credit for one bit of awards history. He now has more Tiger of the Year awards than anyone in franchise history.
On Tuesday, the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Cabrera as Tiger of the Year for the second season in a row and the fourth time overall. As much as Max Scherzer meant for Tigers fortunes during a 21-3 season that made him the AL Cy Young award favorite, he couldn’t match what Cabrera meant to the Tigers’ third consecutive division title run.
Cabrera received 17 out of 25 votes, with Scherzer taking the other eight, according to newspaper reports.
The win moved Cabrera out of a tie for most Tiger of the Year honors in the award’s history, dating back to 1965. He was part of a group of three-time winners that included Denny McLain (1966, 68-69), Alan Trammell (1980, 87-88) and Cecil Fielder (1990-92).
Cabrera also became the first repeat winner since fellow third baseman Travis Fryman in 1995-96, and broke a five-year string in which Cabrera and Justin Verlander had been alternating years as winners.
Cabrera didn’t repeat his Triple Crown from last year, but he actually bettered his numbers in most of his averages while posting home runs and RBIs at a better pace. His .348 batting average was a career high and easily a Major League best for this season, making him the first right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby in the 1920s to win three consecutive league batting titles.
Cabrera spent much of the season’s second half on pace for a historic .350 average, 40 homers and 150 RBIs before abdominal and groin injuries finally sapped his power over the final weeks of the season. As it was, he still matched last year’s total of 44 home runs to go with 137 RBIs, one off his 2012 total, despite playing in 13 fewer games and playing injured in several more.
Not since Todd Helton and Carlos Delgado in 2000 had a Major League hitter batted .340 or better with 35 homers and 140 RBIs in the same season.
Cabrera either scored or drove in 196 of Detroit’s 796 runs for the season. In other words, one out of every four Tigers runs went through Cabrera. It’s lower than the 28 percent share he claimed on Detroit’s offense in 2012, but it was nonetheless impressive.
Cabrera’s 7.2 Wins Above Replacement more than doubled that of the next-closest Tigers position player, according to the formula used by baseball-reference, and topped Scherzer by half a win.
Cabrera will be presented with a trophy from the BBWAA Detroit chapter to recognize the award prior to a game next season.
The Tigers have declared their interest in a closer, and Joe Nathan is the most successful closer on the free-agent market this winter. Nathan is looking for a chance at a World Series ring, and the Tigers might be the closest contending team that’s looking for a closer.
The pieces are there for mutual interest. And according to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com, the interest has already developed.
Nathan’s agent, Dave Pepe, isn’t commenting on teams’ inquiries or interest, and intends to keep negotiations in general as quiet as possible. He did, however, say it’s very early in the process with any team and nowhere close to a deal. If there are talks, they aren’t serious yet.
That said, the expectation is that these two sides are going to try. Morosi cited sources saying Nathan has the Tigers high on his list of teams. And Tigers manager Brad Ausmus’ comments on local radio a few days ago seemingly reflected interest on Detroit’s part.
“I am a Joe Nathan fan for sure,” Ausmus told Detroit Sports 105.1 FM last week. “But where Joe Nathan ends up is a little out of my control.”
The Tigers know Nathan well from his days with the Minnesota Twins, where he and Torii Hunter were teammates from 2004 to 2007. Nathan is 36-for-36 in save chances for his career against Detroit, allowing just 10 runs on 33 hits over 62 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 75 strikeouts. His only loss against the Tigers came on July 19, 2007, when Brandon Inge doubled in Neifi Perez in the 10th inning at the Metrodome.
He posted some of his best numbers this past season at age 38, going 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 46 chances. The stats sound a lot like his career against Detroit: 64 2/3 innings pitched, 36 hits, 10 runs, 22 walks, 73 strikeouts.
“We’re going to have a closer,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. “We’re going to pursue somebody to pitch at the back end of the bullpen. Joaquin [Benoit] is in that group, but there are a lot of closers out there. It’s the one area where there’s a lot of guys. That is one area I think we need to address, with him or someone else, and then we’ll look at the rest of our club.”
A Rookie of the Year award would have been Jose Iglesias’ biggest grab of the season. Instead, awards season glory proved just out of his reach.
The slick-fielding Tigers shortstop ended up losing out to Tampa Bay’s Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year honors amidst a field of two highly-touted Tampa Bay Rays. It was not a surprise, but it eliminates the possibility of a Tigers sweep of the end-of-season player awards.
While Myers took 23 out of 30 first-place votes to run away with the award, Iglesias captured five first-place votes, 17 for second and four for third. He was left off of four ballots, but that didn’t really make a difference.
Iglesias, who impacted two division winning teams thanks to a midseason trade from to Boston to Detroit, was vying to become the first Tiger to win the writers vote for Rookie of the Year honors since Justin Verlander in 2006. No Tigers position player has won it since Lou Whitaker in 1978.
From the day the Tigers introduced manager Brad Ausmus and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about his pitching staff in terms of six starters, not five, you figured this was coming.
“We have some pieces we need to fit together,” Dombrowski said last week, unprompted. “I mean, we do have six starters at this point. People are aware of that, with [former fifth starter turned reliever Drew] Smyly being available to start.”
Once front office members gather for MLB’s General Managers Meetings, it usually becomes apparent how things like that get solved. That came Monday from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, who reported that the Tigers have told teams they’re open to listening to trade offers for Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello.
The Tigers listening on prominent players is nothing new. Dombrowski has said for years he’ll listen on most any player on the roster. The only players who have been labeled untouchable in that regard over the years are Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. It would not be a shock for the Tigers to listen to offers on Doug Fister, either.
That being said, the GM meetings are the same spot where rumors picked up about Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson being available for trade four years ago. Both were dealt a month later at the Winter Meetings in a deal that brought a youth infusion and helped open up some payroll space for other moves that offseason, such as Jose Valverde’s signing and the season of Johnny Damon.
Scherzer and Porcello are in vastly different situations. While Scherzer will head into his contract year as likely the reigning Cy Young award winner and potentially the top free agent on the market next winter, his high-strikeout form refined for consistency, Porcello has two years left ahead of free agency and a vast amount of room for growth at age 24.
Just what the Tigers can draw for either is the question that will mark the difference between listening and acting. Any team that entertains the idea of trading for Scherzer has to determine its chances for re-signing him when free agency is just a year away. On the flip side, trading him this offseason would allow the acquiring team to get a compensatory draft pick if he does sign elsewhere in a year.
The Tigers had six starters this past spring and were widely believed to be open to trading Porcello, but never drew the kind of interest that would spark serious talks. That was before a refined curveball and more consistent fastball command meant a big step forward in Porcello’s development, from a jump in his strikeout rate to a drop in his batting average allowed. His 3.53 Fielding Independent Pitching was easily the best of his five-year career.
If the Tigers can address some immediate needs, such as bullpen or middle infield, and help add some young talent, it might take them beyond the listening stage.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Much 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.
He 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.
As we wait for the press conference at Comerica Park, here’s what we know so far:
- Brad Ausmus will be introduced as the 38th manager in Tigers history today. Though Ausmus was originally thought to be flying in today, word is he was in Detroit earlier this weekend to finish up the deal.
- Gene Lamont will be retained as the bench coach. Ausmus and Lamont are close friends dating back to Lamont’s days in Jimy Williams’ staff in Houston, and Lamont gives Ausmus an experienced voice on the bench to help the transition.
- No word yet on the other coaches, but Jeff Jones appears likely to remain as the pitching coach. He’s from Michigan, he has the trust of the front office, and he provides continuity for a pitching staff that had the best rotation in the American League this past season. Just as important, he has kept most of the Tigers’ critical arms off the surgical table despite three extended postseason runs.
Still waiting to hear about the rest of the coaching staff. Word is Lloyd McClendon is still talking with the Mariners about their managerial position. If he doesn’t get the Seattle job, somebody would have to get a read on what the level of comfort is for a former managerial candidate being on the staff of the guy who won the job.
This was Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski two weeks ago, at the Jim Leyland press conference, talking about the recent trend around baseball towards new managers:
“There’s been a new sort of trend in recent years where there’s been some guys that have not managed that have come in and managed. So I can’t say that I would eliminate that because I think it’s very important that you look at each and every case and get the best person possible. Is it likely the person has managerial experience to some extent? Yes. Is it for sure? I don’t know that at this point.”
Along the same lines, here’s another quote from Dombrowski that day on the win-now imperative the new manager would face:
“Whoever steps in here has to be able to manage a club that has a chance to win right now and handle some very good, established Major League players. So you’re not looking for somebody, where you’ve involved in a club like I’ve been in the past that’s an expansion team, and you let them grow in that area. This club is built to try to win, so the person that we’re going to hire will be the person that we think gives us the best chance. I have always been a strong advocate of having managerial experience, because I think that there’s some things that you learn, not necessarily always at the Major League level, but I think it’s important, because those are tough shoes to fill and there’s a lot that’s involved in it. So I think it’s very important that that person know how to deal with as many issues as they possibly can.”
Taken in that context, you can make the case that Brad Ausmus won the Tigers over.
Unofficially, Ausmus actually did manage a Major League game. It was at the end of the 2009 regular season, a day after the Dodgers had wrapped up the National League West, and Joe Torre went with a tradition of letting a player manage the final game. Ausmus was Torre’s pick, and the 40-year-old catcher led the Dodgers to a 5-3 win at Colorado. He also entered the game as a pinch-runner for Jim Thome.
Add in his experience leading Team Israel in the qualifiers for the most recent World Baseball Classic, and that is Ausmus’ resume as a manager. Those who know him, however, seem to consistently rave about his qualities to be a great manager.
“He’s an amazingly deceptive guy in that you can take him for granted, but he has so much game prep, camaraderie, pitching wealth,” said an AL executive who knew Ausmus from his playing days. “Just a great understanding how the game should be played.”
Dombrowski was somebody who didn’t know Ausmus well. Ausmus came and went during Randy Smith’s time as Tigers general manager, and Smith has praised his managerial qualities.
“I’m as confident in him as I was when I hired [Bruce] Bochy,” Smith told CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, referring to hiring Bochy with the Padres in the 1990s.
Bochy had four seasons managing in the minor leagues and two years as the Padres third-base coach before Smith hired him. Ausmus, who was a 26-year-old catcher on Bochy’s first team with the Padres in 1995, has three years as a special assistant in baseball operations, but 18 years as a Major League catcher.
The bigger difference, though, might be the team. The Padres were still rebuilding after losing Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield and Derek Bell over the previous two seasons. Bochy led the Padres to a division title in his second season. In the case of the Tigers, one can make the argument that this roster has two seasons to contend for a World Series title before the next round of tinkering arrives.
Ausmus doesn’t necessarily change the Tigers’ mindset. He played in an era when specialized statistics blossomed in baseball, including for managerial tendencies, but reportedly isn’t tied to them. With an experienced bench coach (Gene Lamont, perhaps, though that doesn’t seem to be set yet), he can blend two different schools of thought.
What it changes is the voice and the image at the top. Dombrowski doesn’t just hire managers, he hires a public face and voice of the organization. Alan Trammell was 44 years old when Dombrowski hired him, but he seemingly aged a few years at a time as he became the face of the Tigers’ rebuilding struggles a decade ago. His first club was a collection of youngsters and journeymen.
Ausmus inherits not only a veteran-laden roster, but a superstar-loaded one. If he gets guys like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter to buy into the program, even if he has to earn their respect at first, his transition might well be easy. If 2014 becomes a learning year, the job gets harder. Dombrowski knows this, but what he saw and heard from Ausmus in the interview apparently won him over.