The Detroit Tigers have declared that Manager Brad Ausmus will remain with the team for the 2016 season.
This decision by General Manager Al Avila and Owner Mike Ilitch has sparked a debate among baseball fans.
Part of what has caused this debate was a report by the Detroit Free Press that Ausmus was going to be let go after the season. The report came out in early September.
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Most first time managers would be seen as successful with a record above .500 in their first two years. Ausmus, however, has gotten a raw deal. He entered in the wake of Jim Leyland, who had taken his relatively young team to the playoffs time and time again. The team aged, and Leyland walked away. Ausmus walked in depending on players passing their prime, and has suffered for it.
Ausmus has led the Tigers to a 73-82 record, tied for last in the AL Central. This was a serious step back from making the playoffs last year.
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Part of the problem is the offseason 4 year deal that Designated Hitter Victor Martinez inked. The 36 year old is well past his glory days, and has struggled with injury for much of this season. In an offseason workout, V-Mart tore a meniscus in his left knee. He almost missed the start of the year after having surgery to repair his knee,
Martinez has managed a feeble .243 batting average this year, far below his career mark of .302. The Switch-Hitting former Catcher has hit only 11 Home Runs this season. A rebound seems unlikely at age 37, but it could happen. Ausmus will either bank on it or look to trade Martinez in the offseason. His contract looks like dead weight for now.
Many feel the biggest part of the Tigers’ 2015 demise was their pitching. The Tigers pitching staff was bad this year. Awful. They combined for an ERA of 4.69, third worst in the major leagues. A bad bullpen had cost them greatly in 2014. The focus in the offseason coming into 2015 was relief pitching. The bullpen rebuild was not successful, and it turned out to be fruitless with a bad starting rotation.
The big three from 2014 could not last them any longer. Max Scherzer moved on, getting a huge contract from the Washington Nationals in the offseason. The once great Justin Verlander struggled for most of 2015. David Price was the only bright spot amidst mediocre performances by Anibal Sanchez, and new acquisitions Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. Price, the most valuable trade piece Detroit had, was moved in July at the deadline.
The midseason trade deadline almost cost Ausmus his job, despite improving the long term outlook of his team. Top pitching prospect Daniel Norris was shipped over from Toronto in the trade that cost the Tigers Price. Norris has had a shaky season overall, but still looks to have huge potential.
The 22 year old southpaw has pitched 30 innings in six starts for Detroit this season. He’s managed a 3.88 ERA in that time, while limiting the walks that had plagued him most of this season. 24 Strikeouts to 5 Walks with the Tigers has lowered his WHIP significantly, down to .97 compared to his 1.51 mark in the minor leagues this season.
Ironically, it’s going to be those very players acquired at the trade deadline that determine if Ausmus stays with the Tigers beyond 2016. Recently departed General Manager Dave Dombrowski knew what he was doing. He not only traded for the top left handed pitching prospect in baseball, but for another promising young lefty in Matt Boyd.
Boyd came over from the Blue Jays, in the same trade as Norris, Boyd put up incredible numbers in the minor leagues this season. The Washington native blew away minor league competition, with a 1.65 ERA and .85 WHIP. He also averaged about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Analysts note that Boyd has increased his fastball velocity this season, and he is often compared to current Los Angeles Dodgers starter Alex Wood.
Often forgotten about by the baseball hounds is the third big name pitcher the Tigers acquired, Right-Hander Michael Fulmer came to Detroit from the New York Mets in the trade for Yoenis Cespedes.
Fulmer was in contention for Minor League Pitcher Of the Year. Fulmer was in line to follow in the footsteps of the Mets’ plethora of young starters. Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob Degrom, Zack Wheeler, and most recently Steve Matz have come out of the Mets farm system and lit the National League on fire.
Fulmer looks ready to make the jump in the summer of 2016, after excelling at the AA level with both New York and Detroit’s Eastern League affiliates. He pitched to the tune of a 2.24 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 124 ⅔ innings. The Right-hander will most likely be invited to spring training then go down to hone his craft at AAA Toledo.
Ausmus will depend on these three young pitchers next year. While Fulmer probably will not make the team out of camp, he’s a good candidate for a midsummer call-up. Ausmus’ management of his young pitching staff in 2016 will be key in maintaining his job past next season.