The Detroit Tigers will get a jump on the annual baseball managerial carousel after Ron Gardenhire’s sudden retirement Saturday before the Tigers’ game against the Cleveland Indians.
Bench coach Lloyd McClendon will finish the season as the Tigers’ interim manager, though he’s not necessarily a lock to get the full-time job. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some candidates they should consider during the offseason:
Shawn Windsor: Gardenhire went out on his own terms, which is what he deserved
McClendon will get a chance to impress GM Al Avila as the Tigers finish off the slate this week, and he has made no secret of his desire to lead a big-league team again. Then again, there’s nothing the Tigers don’t already know about him. He coached in Detroit under Jim Leyland, Brad Ausmus and now Gardenhire, and was a candidate for the top job after the first two departed. He’s certainly experienced, with 1,106 games as a big-league manager with the Pirates (.460 winning percentage) and Seattle Mariners (.503). Those franchises weren’t particularly talent-heavy, which would explain his one winning season (87-75 in Seattle in 2014), but that doesn’t inspire confidence that he can get the Tigers’ youngsters to finish off the rebuild.
[ 2017 manager search: McClendon fine, but won’t be fresh start team wants ]
Hinch knows the franchise — he played 27 games on the 2003 squad that lost an AL-record 119 games. He also knows how to take a young team to the top; he led the Astros to the 2015 playoffs in his first season in Houston — after the franchise lost 416 games over the four previous seasons — and then the 2017 World Series title and a seven-game loss in the 2019 Series. But he comes with baggage; Hinch was fired by Houston — and is serving a one-year suspension — after the Astros’ sign-stealing and trash can-banging campaign came to light in the offseason.
[ Gardenhire: ‘I was fortunate’ to play with the late Tom Seaver ]
Cora, too, has championship credentials; he was Hinch’s bench coach in 2017, then won the World Series as manager of the Red Sox in 2018. Then again, he also has the cheating credentials, as he was implicated in the Astros’ scandal, then further investigated in Boston’s cheating scandal. Cora and the Red Sox parted ways when the Astros allegations arose, and while he was technically cleared in the subsequent investigation in Boston, he was suspended for 2020 for his actions in Houston.
Beltran was the third manager to lose his job after his implication in the Astros scandal. (The only player punished, Beltran was painted as the mastermind of the scheme.) He never actually managed a game, though, as he was hired by the Mets in November 2019, and parted ways in January 2020. He was considered a respected leader in the clubhouse during his 20-year, seven-franchise MLB career — and interviewed for the Yankees job that eventually went to Aaron Boone before the Mets hired him a year later. Despite that extended playing career, Beltran is still young; he’ll be 43 on Opening Day next season.
Yes, Espada is the Astros’ current bench coach; no, he wasn’t implicated in the Astros’ cheating scandal — he actually served as the interim manager between the dismissal of Hinch and Houston’s hiring of Dusty Baker this spring. Espada was highly sought by Hinch to replace Cora in 2018, after three seasons as third-base coach with the Yankees under manager Joe Girardi. “He’s been around decision-making, he’s been around high end winning and he’s intellectually curious,” Hinch told NBC Sports Chicago in 2019 when Espada, 45, was interviewing for the Cubs’ opening. Espada, who grew up in Puerto Rico, also interviewed for the San Francisco Giants’ opening. He also might have an in with Avila; Espada signed as a minor-league free agent with the Marlins in 2001, back when Avila was in the Marlins’ front office.
Finally, a non-Astro AND a non-cheater! (We think.) Geren has a winning pedigree as the bench coach for the Dodgers, who have made the playoffs in each of his five seasons in L.A. He also has MLB managerial experience, as he led the Athletics from 2007-11. That stint in Oakland wasn’t particularly successful, however, with no winning seasons and a 334-376 record. He also might not be willing to leave the Dodgers; he left his job as Mets bench coach in 2015 — where he was lauded for his openness to analytics during New York’s run to the 2015 World Series — specifically to be closer to his family in Southern California.
Yes, we’re kidding. Just checking to see if you’re playing attention. But while we’re talking about familiar former Tigers …
Everybody’s favorite Tigers utility infielder — Donnie Kelly Baby! — has rapidly climbed the coaching ranks since leaving the field in 2016. After spending 2018 as a scout for the Tigers, he served as first-base coach for the Astros during their run to the 2019 World Series, then joined the Pirates as bench coach for their 2020 run to, uh, the No. 1 overall pick. (Pittsburgh entered Saturday with an MLB-worst 15-36 record.) He’s young, obviously — he turns 41 in February — which may not entirely be what the Tigers are looking for to groom a roster mostly in its early 20s.
Who knew the cellar-dwelling Pirates could produce two candidates? Rabelo has spent 2020 as the assistant hitting coach in Pittsburgh in his first big-league job; Pirates hitters are near the bottom of nearly every offensive category this season, so, uh…. But before Rabelo took the Pirates job, he was rising through the Tigers organization, with managerial stints at Class-A Connecticut (2014-15), Class-A West Michigan (2016-17), High-A Lakeland (2018) and Double-A Erie (2019). He’s young, too, turning 41 in January, but if there’s an outside candidate who knows the Tigers’ crop of youngsters, it’s Rabelo. (Bonus points, Rabelo was drafted by the Tigers in 2001, worked his way onto the big-league roster by 2007 and was dealt away in December 2007 as part of the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera from Miami to Detroit.)
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