By Justin Spiro
September 8, 2015
The search for the next manager of the Detroit Tigers is effectively over. The DSR has learned the team expects to hire Ron Gardenhire shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 season.
The decision is surprising only in its timing, as Gardenhire was frequently listed by pundits and fans alike as a candidate to replace the incumbent Brad Ausmus.
“It’s pretty much done,” a source within the organization said.
The source indicated that Gardenhire was the choice of team owner Mike Ilitch, but new President and General Manager Al Avila is fully on board with the expected hire.
Recently, the Tigers quietly reached out to the former Minnesota Twins skipper to gauge his interest in the job. When their interest in him was quickly reciprocated, informal discussions began in earnest. Gardenhire is expected to sign a three- or four-year contract, with yet to be determined financial terms. The sides are in agreement that compensation will not be a point of dispute when formal negotiations take place.
Ilitch was firm in his desire to replace Ausmus with an experienced manager, and Gardenhire fits the bill. In 13 seasons with the rival Twins, he won the AL Central crown 6 times, despite relatively meager team payrolls in most seasons.
Twins Division Titles Under Gardenhire (with Opening Day payroll ranking):
2002: $40,225,000 (27th)
2003: $55,505,000 (18th)
2004: $53,585,000 (19th)
2006: $63,396,006 (19th)
2009: $65,299,267 (24th)
2010: $97,559,167 (11th)
Despite his relative success in Minnesota, Gardenhire is not without his detractors. His 6-21 postseason record can only be described as abysmal. Gardenhire’s last four years in Minnesota were also a struggle, as he posted a 265-383 record before being relieved of his duties. A decimated roster was certainly the predominant cause of the organization’s collapse.
Given Detroit News‘ national baseball writer Tony Paul’s reporting on Al Avila’s penchant for sabermetric principles, it is curious that the new Tigers boss is so comfortable with Gardenhire decision.
Our source insists Avila is in full support of his owner’s choice, however, and did not once attempt to sway Ilitch toward a more SABR-friendly manager. Gardenhire has historically been an adherent to “old school” principles that run diametrically opposed to advanced metrics.
The Tigers’ decision to contact and informally negotiate with Gardenhire while still employing Brad Ausmus will likely present an awkward final few weeks for the current skipper. As we previously reported, the organization decided Ausmus would ultimately be fired back in late July, but wanted to let him finish the year out of respect for him. One must wonder if that well-intentioned move has created an even worse situation for Ausmus than a mid-season firing would have presented.
The source indicated the Tigers will move quickly to secure their new manager at season’s end. As for the chances the negotiation hits a snag or falls apart?
“(Hiring Gardenhire) is a formality,” the source said. “I don’t see how it wouldn’t happen.”