With Jim Leyland gone there is likely to be no shortage of men wanting his old job. The Tigers have star power, an owner who is willing to spend money and they look poised to remain competitive in the AL Central for the foreseeable future. In short, this job opening is one of the best to hit the classifieds in some time.
So who will replace Leyland? Some off-the-top-of my-head ideas, heavy on candidates with Tigers connections:
Tom Brookens: The former Tigers third baseman and current Tigers third base coach, Brookens has worked his way up through the Tigers system managing at multiple levels since joining the big league coaching staff in 2009. Brookens has infuriated some Tigers fans with some of his decisions on sending base runners home, but that’s not part of a manager’s job so maybe it helps the club! That aside, Brookens would be a “stay-the-course” kind of candidate, likely to maintain much of the same style and to demonstrate the same temperament as Leyland, who you’d have to assume is his primary managerial mentor. The biggest drawback: no big league managing experience. Of course, since he knows this team well, it’s not as big a problem for him as it would be for outside candidates (see below).
Lloyd McClendon: The Tigers hitting coach has been with Leyland since he took over the Tigers as manager in 2006, first serving as bullpen coach then hitting coach. Leyland didn’t have a bench coach until this past season, but McClendon was thought of as serving in that capacity when the Tigers were at bat (and Gene Lamont was coaching third). McClendon has routinely been the Tigers’ fill-in manager following Leyland ejections as well. Like Brookens, McClendon would be a continuation of what’s been going on as opposed to a departure. Unlike Brookens, McClendon has major league managerial experience, serving as Pirates skipper from 2000-05.
Gene Lamont: Leyland’s long-time coach and close friend, Lamont is also an experienced major league manager, guiding the White Sox and Pirates. He was also a candidate for the Red Sox job in the winter of 2011-12 but lost out to Bobby Valentine of all people. One drawback: Lamont is 66. Which, fine, but with Leyland saying that he thought a younger guy should take over, you have to wonder if going more than two years younger isn’t more preferable for the Tigers at this point.
Alan Trammell: Tram is not just a Tigers legend, he’s also a former Tigers manager. Although he really did get a bum deal his first time around, being handed a team with little talent no hope of contention, which led to a 119-loss season his first year in the top job. He lasted two more seasons with Detroit — he was replaced by Leyland — and since then has served as bench coach for the Cubs and the Diamondbacks. It’s not often teams give a guy a second chance, but Trammell is not just any guy in Detroit and now has a lot more experience under his belt.
Kirk Gibson: Another Tigers legend and a former Tigers hitting coach under Trammell. However, he’s under contract in Arizona through next season with team options in 2015-16, and it’s unlikely the Diamondbacks would be willing to let him go, assuming he’d want to. Why the Tigers would want to give up talent to get him is another question. How his “gritty” style would play on a team of high-priced veterans is a final problem. This one seems more like wishcasting of Tigers fans more than anything.
Dusty Baker, Ozzie Guillen or someone like them: This is a place-holder for Experienced Manager Who Can Win Now. Dusty just happens to be the most notable guy who fits that description looking for a job. Not that I think the Tigers would be terribly interested. While they wouldn’t have fired Leyland for his tactical/bullpen brain locks, they probably wouldn’t mind getting a guy who isn’t as prone to the same sort of problems, and Baker clearly is. Another one — and this one would be all kinds of fun — Ozzie Guillen. Unlike Baker, Guillen has a World Series ring. He also happens to be good friends with Miguel Cabrera, not that that tends to be a big factor when job openings happen. Of course Guillen fostered a LOT of hate among Tigers fans over the years for various reasons. So while it would be hilarious to see him take over the job, it would require a P.R. offensive by the team to get fans on board with a Guillen hire. Please sign me up for the P.R. job if it becomes available.
Brad Ausmus or someone like him: Let’s call this a place-holder for ALL inexperienced managers. Ausmus, known to be as smart as a tack and a guy who many think will one-day be a good major league manager. He also has zero experience, and like so many other possible names folks can throw out there, it’s hard to see how a team in the Tigers’ position — World Series contenders — would gamble on a newbie for a win-now job.
Ultimately: could be anyone for such a great opening. But I’m sure we’ll hear the names of these men tossed about a fair amount until the candidates are narrowed down.