Posted on October 20, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Detroit Tigers will be the first major league team to fill its managerial vacancy this offseason. According to reports from both Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal, the Tigers are poised to hire Ron Gardenhire as their new manager. The 59-year old Gardenhire will replace Brad Ausmus, who was let go at the end of the season. Gardenhire will be charged with leading the Tigers through a rebuilding period.
As of Thursday night, the Tigers have not made the move official. However, Gardenhire reportedly emerged as the favorite after interviewing with the team on Tuesday. Unless the two sides can’t come to an agreement on salary, it appears that Gardenhire is ready to accept the job.
Gardenhire is no doubt the safe choice by the Tigers. It likely means that Tigers GM Al Avila valued managerial experience above anything else when trying to fill the vacancy. When he announced that Ausmus would not be returning in 2018, Avila mentioned that experience would be a factor in hiring Detroit’s next manager.
“As we transition the ballclub in a new direction, I feel it’s best we have a new approach and a fresh start with the manager position,” Avila said last month when he announced Ausmus would not be back with the team next year.
Gardenhire, of course, has plenty of experience. He is best known for managing the Minnesota Twins from 2002 to 2014. Prior to becoming Minnesota’s manager, Gardenhire spent 11 seasons as the team’s third base coach and was part of the Twins winning the World Series in 1991.
During his time as Minnesota’s manager, he led the Twins to six division titles. However, Minnesota had a disappointing playoff record of 6-21 during that span. The Twins only advanced to the ALCS once during Gardenhire’s tenure. After winning the AL Central in 2010, Gardenhire failed to bring the Twins back to the playoffs. Minnesota finished last in the division three times from 2011 to 2014, ultimately costing Gardenhire his job.
After being fired by the Twins, Gardenhire took some time away from baseball. However, he got back in the dugout this past season, serving as bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gardenhire used his experience to help first-year manager Torey Lovullo guide the Diamondbacks to a wild-card spot.
If there’s a criticism of Gardenhire it’s perhaps that he’s too much of an old-school manager. During his last few seasons with the Twins, he was hesitant to use defensive shifts, platoon players, or use advanced metrics. However, spending a year as Arizona’s bench coach appears to have helped him to catch up with modern aspects of the game, many of which have been embraced by Detroit’s front office.
Gardenhire is likely to have a young team in Detroit next season. Over the course of the season, the Tigers traded J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander, among others, in an effort to get younger and improve their farm system. It would not be a surprise to see Avila continue to trade veteran players this offseason. If so, Gardenhire may be tasked with leading the Tigers through a few more losing seasons before they’re ready to compete for a division title.