By: Will Burchfield
The question hadn’t even been asked.
Jim Leyland answered it anyway.
“First of all, I’m hoping that Brad comes back. I think he’s done a terrific job under the circumstances,” Leyland told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
That would be Ausmus, of course, the Tigers manager — and Leyland’s successor — whose contract expires at the end of this season. It remains to be seen whether he returns for 2018.
Asked about that possibility at the beginning of this month, general manager Al Avila simply said, “I can’t say that’s out of the question.”
At that point, Avila hadn’t yet talked to Ausmus about his future with the team. The organization has done a stark 180 since the skipper was hired in 2013, ditching its win-now approach for a full-scale rebuild.
Leyland, who serves as a special assistant for the Tigers, believes Ausmus is “the perfect guy” to lead the team forward.
“Because he’s a young guy, he can work active with the players physically, he’s in great shape, he throws BP. He’s got a good rapport with his players,” Leyland said. “I certainly hope that he comes back.”
As much as the Tigers have to make a call on Ausmus, so might Ausmus have to make a call on the Tigers. If he signs on for another year or two, he’ll become the face of a lot of losing baseball.
“It’s a tough transition and your personal record’s going to take a beating,” Leyland said. “I mean, it killed me in Florida the second year.”
After winning the World Series in 1997, the Marlins dismantled their roster to cut costs. They went 54-108 the next season, prompting Leyland to resign.
Ausmus would be up against similar odds in 2018.
“That’ll be a decision that he’ll have to make, if he wants to take a beating for a little while — and they will take a beating,” said Leyland. “We had to play 38 rookies in Florida that second year I was there, and it just doesn’t work.”
Avila ripped the roster down to its studs on the final day of August and called up a host of minor-league players to fill in the blanks. Since then, the Tigers have gone 2-9 while allowing more than seven runs per game.
Leyland talked about the challenge of managing a team in the midst of a rebuild.
“It’s difficult because you’re going to get beat a lot, most likely, and that’s what’s happening right now. But in the other sense, it’s kind of interesting because you’re looking to make an evaluation on the young players — which ones may have a future with the big club, which ones may not. You still have a job to do, you’re trying to win games, obviously, but you’re also evaluating talent and you’re looking for the future,” said Leyland.
“You can get a lot out of this season even though your win-loss record is going to take a beating,” he added.
Out of the Tigers’ recent call-ups, Leyland said he’s been most impressed with Jeimer Candelario. The 23-year-old third baseman, who was acquired from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson trade, has hit .375 since joining the big-league club on Sept. 2.
Ausmus has declined questions about his future since the season began. But he said earlier this month, when the direction of the organization became clear, that he’d welcome the opportunity to preside over a youth movement.
“I think there’s a lot of upside to young players because of the enthusiasm and energy and will to learn,” he said. “But I won’t talk about my situation.”