By: Will Burchfield
Should he stay or should he go?
It’s once again become a point of debate concerning Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. His ball club is nine games under .500, 6.5 games out of a playoff spot and more or less sleepwalking through the early part of the summer.
How much of the blame should Ausmus bear? It’s a tough question, but it’s on GM Al Avila and Co. to come up with an answer and act accordingly. Here are three reasons to keep Ausmus and three reasons to fire him. (The skipper is in the final year of his four-year contract.)
He should stay because…
1. He isn’t the problem. There are a number of culprits for the Tigers’ disappointing start, but Ausmus isn’t high among them. The offense has been typically streaky, the rotation has been generally mediocre and the bullpen, after a strong month of May, ranks last in the majors in ERA (5.20). Ausmus isn’t the one to blame for the players’ struggles, including a number of high-profile vets.
2. He keeps the clubhouse level. Few things are more important during the grind of a baseball season than maintaining an even keel. The Tigers are a cool-headed bunch, unfazed by the ups and downs, and a good portion of that is attributable to the skipper. He seems like the right man to lead them on a potentially arduous climb back up the standings.
3. He has the respect of the players. Aside from Francisco Rodriguez’s comments earlier this month, the Tigers have always stood behind Ausmus — largely because he stands behind them. He has built a strong rapport with the core members of this team over the past four seasons and they seem to enjoy playing for him. That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked in determining a manager’s claim to his position.
He should be fired because…
1. The Tigers need a jolt. One can debate the emotional impact of a midseason manager change, but it’s clear this team needs some kind of spark. Ausmus hasn’t been able to provide it thus far, with the players seemingly falling in line with his never-panic approach. Could a switch at the helm thrust some wind back in their sails?
2. He’s loyal to a fault. Part of what endears Ausmus to his players, particularly to the vets, is his staunch faith in their abilities. But the manager can rely too heavily on track records at times, as we saw with K-Rod and as we’ve seen with cleanup hitter Victor Martinez. In putting so much stock in players’ past accomplishments, Ausmus is prone to crippling the team in the present.
3. He overlooks context. In a vacuum, Ausmus’ managerial moves tend to make sense. But he sometimes makes decisions with an unrealistic view of his players. Favoring a lefty-lefty matchup for example, Ausmus will call on Daniel Stumpf from the bullpen as if Stumpf is some kind of lefty specialist. He’s not, and the evidence has generally bore that out. But Ausmus seems to favor theory over practicality.
It’s too early to axe him. His seat is deservedly warm, and he should be under intense scrutiny from the Tigers’ brass over the upcoming homestand. But the team’s deficit is the players’ problem to solve. Firing Ausmus would point the finger in the wrong direction and send a defeatist message in June. The players all spoke about how excited they were that Avila kept the roster in tact last winter and how confident they felt in their chances of making the playoffs. Time to back it up.