Lloyd McClendon adjusted Saturday’s lineup to counter Miguel Cabrera’s late scratch for a non-coronavirus illness before the Detroit Tigers’ game with the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park.
During the game, he made the pitching changes and inserted a pinch-hitter, Cabrera in the eighth inning. He sent out pinch-runners and executed defensive replacements. And when the game concluded in a 5-2 comeback win, he spoke with reporters.
For the first time since 2015 — a few ejections aside — McClendon sat in the dugout as a manager, albeit with the interim tag for now. Ron Gardenhire announced his retirement unexpectedly, tossing his bench coach into action for the final eight scheduled games of the 2020 season.
Once it’s over, general manager Al Avila will officially begin his search for a new manager to continue the rebuilding efforts.
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McClendon is an obvious candidate.
“Do I want to manage again? Obviously, yes,” McClendon said Saturday. “I would definitely have interest in this job. Al and I will sit down and talk about that at the end of the year and see what happens.”
This is the third managerial stint in McClendon’s career. He did so from 2001-05 for the Pittsburgh Pirates and 2014-15 for the Seattle Mariners. Saturday’s win with the Tigers was No. 500 in his career.
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The closest he came to leading a team to the postseason was his only winning season, with Seattle in 2014. The Mariners were 87-75 that season, missing the wild card by one game.
Avila isn’t ready to reveal much about the search process or targets.
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“It’s a little bit too early to make any statements like that, but I would say for a remainder of the season, Lloyd will manage the club, the coaching staff will continue to do their jobs, will continue to play the young guys and evaluate throughout the remainder of next week,” Avila said Saturday. “Once the season is over, we will evaluate all of our talent, our coaching staff, but more importantly, our players as we move forward and assess what we need to build it back up for next year.”
Why McClendon makes sense
This isn’t the beginning of the rebuild, so McClendon would be the easy choice to shift the team into the next stage of the process. He has already built relationships with infielders Isaac Paredes, Sergio Alcantara, Willi Castro and Jeimer Candelario, and he is a mentor to outfielders Daz Cameron and Victor Reyes. He has worked with top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene in spring training and the summer camp.
These players already know him and have shown a willingness to learn from him.
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That’s something nobody outside of the organization can provide — a well-established line of contact with the pieces involved in the rebuild.
He also coached in Detroit under Jim Leyland from 2006-13, Brad Ausmus in 2017 and Gardenhire from 2018-20. The players will work hard for McClendon, as they did through 98 losses in 2018 and 114 in 2019.
Before McClendon entered coaching, he played 570 MLB games in eight seasons.
So, this guy has a lot of experience, understands each prospect, knows what it means to be in the majors and holds valuable connections to the franchise.
Why McClendon doesn’t make sense
The Tigers want a manager who will be able to see the rebuild through. That could mean another season or two of struggle before becoming a postseason contender.
Torkelson, one of the assumed cornerstones of the rebuild, won’t likely begin playing his best baseball until 2023; same with many of the prospects. And it’s important to remember McClendon is 61, just one year younger than Gardenhire.
There’s a feeling this change will take the front office outside of the current clubhouse, as it did with Ausmus and Gardenhire.
A one-year transition makes McClendon a solid option for 2021, but if the Tigers take a long-term focus into this decision, he may best serve as a bench coach to the next manager. He did well in that role for Gardenhire through the worst parts of the rebuild, and the Tigers recognize that.
Whether he will be rewarded for his efforts with the top job is unknown.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.