By: Will Burchfield
For Tigers fans hoping for change, this offseason likely isn’t the one.
The team already brought back manager Brad Ausmus, and the skipper doesn’t foresee much turnover taking place beneath him.
“I know the feeling is, well just make a trade. I wish it was that easy. You can’t just make a trade,” Ausmus told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Thursday morning. He was calling from Lakeland, Fla. where the Tigers are holding their organizational meetings.
“You have to find a team that you can make a trade with and wants to make a trade with you and it improves both teams in some manner, so it’s very difficult to do,” he added. “I can’t imagine we’re going to go out and sign a bunch of guys (either), but you never know.”
The Tigers picked up Ausmus’ 2017 contract option amid rumors that he would be let go. Ausmus reiterated throughout the season that he wasn’t concerned with such speculation, but admitted on Thursday he wasn’t completely sure the Tigers would invite him back.
“Of course there was a question. Until I’m told I’m coming back, there’s doubt, there was a question in my mind,” he said.
But he always hoped to return, in large part because of his fondness for the team’s personnel.
“I really like the guys. I think the one thing you find when you’re done playing the game of baseball, the one thing you miss, other than the competition, are the people. Generally the teams I’ve been on have had good people and this is a good group of guys who care about the right things. I enjoy being around them, and that includes the coaching staff as well,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers missed the playoffs for the second straight season in 2016, partly due to an inconsistent bullpen. But as Ausmus pointed out on Thursday, most MLB teams face the same dilemma every year.
“I think people and fans have to understand, there’s very few bullpens that actually don’t have issues. A lot of times people think there’s a bunch of Mariano Riveras sitting down in the bullpen and that’s just not the way it works.
“Relievers are a fickle group to figure out in terms of signing or trading for. There’s very few guys that you can count on from year to year,” he said.
Ausmus pointed to the San Francisco Giants’ Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS as evidence, when five Giants’ relievers combined to blow a three-run lead in the ninth inning. No matter whom manager Bruce Bochy turned to, the situation deteriorated.
“It’s not just the Tigers that have had that issue over the last six, seven years,” he said. “It’s happened all over the place in baseball.”
One of the lone bright spots in the Tigers’ bullpen this year was closer Francisco Rodriguez, who finished second in the American League with 44 saves.
“The truth is, K-Rod was outstanding for us, K-Rod was one of the best in the A.L. in terms of having a closer shut down the ninth inning and occasionally for four outs, starting in the eighth. We might have had trouble at times toward the end of the season getting to K-Rod, but K-Rod was outstanding all year long,” Ausmus said.
In terms of relievers who can help bridge the gap in the late innings, Ausmus pointed to Shane Greene. Greene was moved to the bullpen in early June and grew into the team’s primary set-up man midway through the season. He relinquished that role when he scuffled toward the end of the year, but Ausmus believes in his potential.
“I still think Shane Greene’s going to be a good backend-of-the-bullpen type reliever. I know he struggled a little bit later in the season but he was real good when he first took on that role and I think he’ll probably be a lot more comfortable a year from now, knowing he’s in the role.
“I know in talking to him that he prefers that role. He really likes coming in and letting it all hang out for three, four, five outs, so I do think that he’s going to be good in that role,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers could look for outside help, as well, but it appears that won’t be a major part of their offseason approach.