Detroit Tigers managerial search: These are candidates, traits Al Avila is looking at

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has compiled a long list of manager candidates, and more names will be added in the coming days and weeks.

Once the list is reviewed and whittled down to a “manageable number,” the first and second rounds of interviews will take place via Zoom video conference calls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eventually, two or three candidates will have in-person interviews before a final decision.

For subscribers: Here’s who Detroit Tigers should target as their next manager

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Ron Gardenhire retired Sept. 19 with eight games remaining, leaving bench coach Lloyd McClendon — one of the candidates — with the interim manager tag. 

The search to find the next manager could span into late October or early November. The next few years will be the most important in the organization’s hopes of ditching the rebuild and returning to playoff contention, so the Tigers are willing to take their time.

“In the event that candidate is still in the playoffs or World Series, we may have to wait until November or, obviously, after the World Series,” Avila said Friday. “At this time, I really don’t know where it’s going to end. Right now, we’re not in a rush. We’re kind of taking our time with it.”

[ Next Detroit Tigers manager must build off what Ron Gardenhire started ]

What’s more important than the timeline is the general makeup of the next manager.

The Tigers will consider Will Venable, George Lombard, Vance Wilson, Don Kelly, Pedro Grifol, Mike Redmond and Marcus Thames, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, along with McClendon. On Friday, Avila said A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora — members of the 2017 Houston Astros’ cheating scandal — are on his list of candidates.

[ A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora will be considered for Detroit Tigers’ manager position ]

Avila wouldn’t give too much away, but he made it clear the next manager must have coaching experience. He has been down the inexperienced road before, watching former general manager Dave Dombrowski hire Brad Ausmus to succeed Jim Leyland after the 2013 season.

The Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 ALDS under Ausmus’ leadership, and they haven’t been back to the playoffs since. Avila fired Ausmus after the 2017 season and brought in Gardenhire to deal with the rebuild. 

Before managing the Tigers, Ausmus was a field executive for the San Diego Padres 2011-13. He retired from his playing career in 2010 after 18 seasons.

“One thing you could eliminate is a guy that played and has absolutely no coaching experience, no managerial experience and goes from being a player directly to a major-league manager,” Avila said. “I probably wouldn’t go that way. But everything else is in play.”

For subscribers: Detroit Tigers manager search: A.J. Hinch is a home run, except for his cheating past

Besides experience, Avila wants “tremendous leadership qualities” from his next manager, someone who is engaged with the players and coaching staff daily. He needs the person to be active in discussions with many departments: analytical, scouting and the front office. 

His next hire will be someone he believes can motivate players through the final stages of the rebuild.

“He’s got to establish that presence,” Avila said. “You have to have courage. You have to have discipline. You have to have conviction in what you’re doing.”

[ Detroit Tigers already have a willing candidate for next manager: Lloyd McClendon ]

Also, he is seeking a manager who can properly evaluate each player on the roster and, at times, project an individual’s future with the organization. Typically, that role falls into Avila’s job description.

Instead, he wants to work in conjunction with the new manager.

“If you have a really good manager that’s well engaged down there in the clubhouse, that goes a long way,” Avila said. “For me, that can make players better, make your organization better.

“In the long run, that helps you become a winning franchise.”

For subscribers: Jim Leyland: Detroit Tigers will have ‘guys waiting in line’ for manager job

Here are other notes from Avila’s Friday news conference:

Scouting changes

OIlitch Holdings Inc. began Wednesday the process of furloughing and eliminating positions on the business-operations side of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and its other entertainment venues. The total number of reductions remains unclear.

The baseball-operations side of the Tigers remained untouched in terms of the amateur-scouting and player-development staffs. However, there were a “few guys” from the professional scouting department who did not get their contracts renewed, Avila said.

“The few minor changes that we’ve done there are just normal adjustments as we go along the way but no reductions,” Avila said. “We’re planning and budgeting for a full season of Triple-A, Double-A, the two A-ball clubs, the rookie clubs.

“In saying that, we might have to make adjustments along the way because I don’t know, nobody knows right now, how the minor leagues are going to look going into 2021, from spring training and going into the season. At that point, there might be adjustments made. Right now, we’re in a good position across the board from a baseball perspective.”

Innings limit in 2021

Avila is planning for a full schedule at the major- and minor-league levels in 2021, but he knows nothing is guaranteed. If there is a 162-game major-league season, he will need to manage the innings pitched by each member of his starting rotation.

For example, rookie right-hander Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick from 2018, threw 28⅓ innings in seven games this year, so there may be extra attention paid if he reaches 160 innings in 2021.

[ Casey Mize’s bright Detroit Tigers future remains intact despite struggles ]

Along with Mize, left-hander Matthew Boyd (60⅓ innings), right-hander Spencer Turnbull (56⅔), left-hander Tarik Skubal (32) and righty Michael Fulmer (27⅔) are expected to be starters when the 2021 season begins April 1 at Comerica Park.

“There are questions to be made to experts, doctors, in particular, to help that decision process,” Avila said. “But it’s going to be a burden, and it’s going to be discussed a lot between now and spring training, of which way to go.”

Prospects Manning, Faedo

In the last few days, Tigers prospects have arrived in Lakeland, Florida, home of the team’s spring training facility, for the instructional league. There will be 50 players and 20 staff members and the goal is to play 15 games through Nov. 8.

Right-handed pitchers Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, ranked by MLB Pipleline as the team’s Nos. 3 and 10 prospects, respectively, made the trip to Lakeland but will not appear in games. They were shut down in late August with forearm strains.

“Just working out and building back up strength,” Avila said. “Right now, they’re perfectly healthy and doing really good. We’re just not going to pitch them in games at this point.”

Cabrera’s request

Since hearing designated hitter Miguel Cabrera’s plea to return to first base, Avila has thought about giving him a chance. He would enjoy seeing the two-time MVP in the infield and doesn’t doubt Cabrera would do an excellent job.

But there’s a risk because of past injuries.

Cabrera said in September that he always feels pain in his knees. Before playing 57 games in 2020, he missed parts of the prior three seasons because of injuries. Still, that doesn’t mean the 37-year-old won’t ever make a return to first base.

“When we hire the new manager, we’ll probably take a look at it,” Avila said. “I can’t tell you that I look at him as a full-time, everyday first baseman, just because of the risk factor. I think he could do it, but the risk factor goes up tremendously. It’s really not in his best interest nor ours if you want to keep him healthy and in the lineup.

“I’m not going to rule out that maybe he could play first base from time-to-time, but at the same time, I don’t think I would risk making him the everyday first baseman again.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold

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