By: Eric Thomas
The suggested names to replace Jim Leyland are coming fast. For the people who crossed their fingers with reptilian excitement to the point where their phones auto complete “Fire Leyland” at the touch of the letter F–they seem stunned. Many Leyland haters never planned for this. They never thought they’d be called upon to offer an alternative to the Tigers former skipper. Careful what you wish for. The cupboard appears bare, a ready-made replacement isn’t available.
Many have said that the window is closing; the Tigers need to make every move with an eye trained at winning right now. This team will look completely different in 2015. Max Scherzer will probably be gone, along with Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Doug Fister…the list is as long as you want to make it. There’s some question about Miguel Cabrera, if he will want to stay in Detroit post Jim Leyland. Dave Dombrowski has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Bud Selig after the Commish steps down at the end of next season.
After next year, the party’s over folks. Somebody get the light on the way out. Throw out the dip before it starts to smell.
The next manager walks in with titanic expectations, but it’s somehow worse than that. It would be one thing to take over the Yankees, Sox or Cardinals; or any of the other teams who’ve had long traditions of winning and recent championships in the rearview. Tigers fans and their owner are desperate for that final piece, and they’ve spent millions of dollars and man-hours with that singular aim in sight. Since 2006, Tiger fans have edged on the precipice, falling short every year from either a late-season collapse or (a more painful) near-miss. The next manager didn’t leave Valverde in for too long or show loyalty to Ryan Raburn–but whoever it is inherits all of it.
This isn’t a job for a first timer. Fans will whisper the name of Rod Marinelli, and that name is never brought up in this town for anything positive—whether that’s fair or not. Do you really want a guy sitting in the dugout for 162 games before he can prove if he’s got the stones to manage in the playoffs?
You can’t hire a failure, either. The next manager can’t be a hundred games under .500 in his career. There are plenty of guys out there who probably deserve another chance; their careers were felled by mistakes in the front office or injuries or any of the many other not-fair things that happen in the course of a baseball season—but it would be a bad idea to give those kind of managers swing this year. Manny Acta might be a manager with SABR in his veins, but his resume disqualifies him from consideration. His managerial record of 372-518 is a giant red flag and when he left DC they got better; same when he left Cleveland.
Why does the manager have to be well versed in SABR anyway? Recalling Moneyball, (the book not the movie) SABR is more of a front-office philosophy—the theory being that you focus on the data rather than the individual match ups, the game is won or lost before the players even show up to the game. Sabermetric disciples warn against bunting and stealing because they’re “free outs.” When SABR is employed, the manager rests in the dugout and lets the math unfold in front of them. The manager position, and the effect that his decisions have on the game, are largely dismissed by the disciples of SABR.
It’s a tough decision for Dombrowski, but he’s earned the right to make it. In the past three years his moves have been inspired. He’s made the right trades, fleeced other GMs and proven his baseball alacrity to everyone who criticized his early head-scratchers.
The Leyland haters can continue to host their version of Burning Man, but filling Leyland’s cleats is no small task. The Tigers have one year to realize their World Series dreams before the band gets broken up. Dombrowski has earned the right to make this decision—but the last three years are riding on it.