By: Will Burchfield
When the 2017 MLB season begins, Brad Ausmus will be back at the helm for the Detroit Tigers.
Per The Detroit News, the club will exercise their option on the fourth year of Ausmus’ contract.
In three seasons as a big-league manager, all of them spent with the Tigers, Ausmus has a record of 250-234. He guided Detroit to the A.L. Central title in 2014, before the team plunged to last place the following year.
This season, the Tigers finished second in the division and missed out on a wild card spot by 2.5 games. They were the final A.L. team eliminated from playoff contention.
Ausmus, 47, has come under increasing scrutiny in the past two seasons with the Tigers failing to meet the expectations of their fan base. But general manager Al Avila has defended Ausmus through all the criticism, often citing injuries as an impediment to the team’s success.
The Tigers were particularly crippled in this regard in 2016, losing J.D. Martinez, Cameron Maybin, Nick Castellanos and Jordan Zimmermann (among others) for long chunks of time. Meanwhile, struggles in the starting rotation forced a number of young arms into action.
Avila was pleased with the way Ausmus steered the Tigers through adversity.
“I see it from inside and how he has helped almost each and every individual player behind the scenes get better,” Avila told 97.1 The Ticket in August. “Also I’ve seen how he’s managed the bullpen get through really some tough times and really the pitching staff in general, how he handles each player day in and day out to keep them rested and keep them productive.
“His responsibility is managing the club, it’s really not so much coaching. It’s managing the club and Brad does it all well.”
The Tigers’ playoff hopes were snuffed out on the final game of the 2016 season. Afterward, Ausmus commended the players for fighting to the finish.
“One thing I will take away is how well this team did the second half,” he told reporters. “We were dead in the water in a lot of people’s minds in July and the guys played hard and continued to play hard all the way through to the last game.”
Asked if he would like to manage the team again in the 2017 season, Ausmus said he’d love to.
“It’s a team that’s got a chance to win,” he continued. “We’ve got good young pitching. We’ve got a bona fide ace at the top and we’ve got good young pitchers that are going to grow and get better.”
One of those young pitchers is Michael Fulmer, the frontrunner for A.L. Rookie of the Year. Ausmus was judicious in his use of Fulmer throughout the season, protecting the 23-year-old’s arm without ever having to shut him down.
Along the way, Fulmer emerged as the future ace of the Tigers’ rotation.
Perhaps most importantly, Ausmus maintained the faith of his players during an up-and-down season. And through three years as the Tigers’ manager, he has developed a rapport with the team that another manager wouldn’t be able to replace.
“The grass isn’t always greener (on the other side),” said Ian Kinsler after the Tigers final game of the season. “We’ve got the guy who’s been here for three years. He was new to the job three years ago. He’s gained experience. He knows this team. He knows the players.”
And he will be back for another year as the Tigers hope to re-establish themselves as championship contenders.