Lloyd McClendon. The good soldier. The reliable presence. The man with experience running a clubhouse. If Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila ultimately decides not to be too adventurous in the search for a new skipper to replace Ron Gardenhire in 2021 or if he’s generally pleased with the coaching staff on hand and the direction of the team, don’t sleep on the longtime Detroit assistant McClendon getting the interim tag removed this winter.
Lloyd McClendon won’t move the needle on the excitement scale for too many Tigers fans. Hiring “Legendary Lloyd” isn’t a season ticket sales ploy. He’s a known commodity in Detroit however. McClendon is also the man with experience and word is out Avila is looking for the experienced hand when he makes this move like AJ Hinch.
McClendon has served the Tigers under both Gardenhire and Jim Leyland. He’s been the bullpen coach, the hitting coach, and the bench coach at different points in his tenure. McClendon’s two biggest claims to the job on the experience level are his gigs as the manager in Pittsburgh for five seasons and in Seattle for two years. His lone victory thus far in Detroit as the skipper just happened to be his 500th as a big-league manager.
Gardenhire told local Detroit sports radio (97.1) he had given Avila his full endorsement of McClendon after handing in his retirement notice.
“As I told Al, Lloyd McClendon, I’ve been with him for three years. He’s been a hitting coach, now he’s been, my bench coach. He is well-loved by the players. He’s delving into the big part of baseball, which is analytics. As a bench coach, he’s been working with (quality control coach) Josh (Paul), putting up our program for the day, getting ready for the game, all the matchups, and everything. And the players, like I said, totally respect this guy. He’s got a soothing mind and his voice is big. So I told (Al), ‘At least talk to him,’” Gardenhire said.
The question now is how big a move do the Tigers have in mind with this hire? Do they feel ready to make the splash move to get the guy they intend to contend with or is this next manager still primarily saddled with overseeing the last steps of the rebuild phase for a couple of more years?
Ron Gardenhire, for all intents and purposes, was always a caretaker hire in Detroit. The teardown was underway when he was hired and the build-up wasn’t in sight. Gardenhire was brought in to be the steady hand who could keep a young club destined for a steady dose of losing from completely imploding both in the clubhouse and on the field. Imparting his earned wisdom about the game and sense of discipline on the youngsters was a nice bonus as well. In most respects, the Gardenhire tenure can be called a modest success when judged via that lens.
Often a club will try to hire the exact opposite of the last guy. Gardenhire is a folksy outdoorsman with a gruff exterior who probably would not bristle at the label “old school”. That probably isn’t a perfect description of McClendon, but there is some overlap. He would not be the opposite of Gardenhire. McClendon, at age 61, isn’t the new young “hot commodity” looking for a start in the skipper’s chair. He’s the comfortable pair of shoes in Avila’s closet.
If Avila is intent on retaining Joe Vavra, Rick Anderson, and others on the Tigers coaching staff, then keeping McClendon on board might be the easiest way to bring that about. Other candidates will almost assuredly, and with good reason, want to build their own staff.
Is the modest success in 2020 enough for Avila to avoid the mass shake up and go fairly status quo? Do the Tigers realistically feel they have at least two more seasons of rebuilding remaining? Then it’s a chance for McClendon.
But if Avila is intent on being aggressive this winter in free agency and the trade market to augment his rapidly evolving farm system, that would seem to be the time to do the clean sweep and bring in all-new voices to put the club on a path to contention in ‘21 and definitely ready in ‘22.