| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila explains manager search, offseason expectations
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila speaks with reporters Friday, October 2, 2020, following his team’s season to share offseason expectations.
Fredi Gonzalez was almost the candidate in 2017.
The Detroit Tigers, recovering from the Brad Ausmus era, needed a new manager. The organization finally embraced the rebuild, dumping Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros for prospects, but Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson — now at the top of the farm system’s rankings — were not even drafted yet.
The next three years were going to be tough, and Gonzalez, according to reports, was the front-runner for the managerial vacancy. But the job went to Ron Gardenhire, who carried the Tigers through 98 and 114 losses in 2018 and 2019, respectively, before retiring Sept. 19 with eight games remaining in this year’s shortened season.
Now, Gonzalez is again a candidate on general manager Al Avila’s lengthy list, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The 56-year-old is the first base coach for the Baltimore Orioles but has 10 years of managing on his resume, from 2007-10 for the Florida Marlins and 2011-16 for the Atlanta Braves.
The Tigers seem to be leaning in the direction of hiring a person with managerial experience, putting A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora — each involved in the 2017 Houston Astros cheating scandal — and Gonzalez as the frontrunners from the outside looking in, along with interim manager Lloyd McClendon.
Even though the Tigers are likely two years away from playoff contention, there is momentum with Matt Manning, Greene and Torkelson on the rise — as well as a 2021 season that’s crucial for Mize’s and Skubal’s development.
“It would be important to bring a guy that can help evaluate the talent on the field,” Avila said Oct. 2. “For me, that’s important to go along with our analytics department, our scouting department, our front office. And be a part of that group, part of that decision-making process as we move forward.”
Why Gonzalez makes sense
With 1,402 career games managed, Gonzalez might be the best choice to ease the Tigers through another difficult season or two.
Before Gonzalez became the Marlins manager, he worked for their organization, beginning in 1992, and joined the big-league club as a third base coach in 1999. That’s when he got to know Avila and now-Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd.
Avila was the Marlins scouting director from 1998-01 and assistant GM from 2001-02; Chadd was the scouting director in 2001.
In October 2017, the connections with Avila and Chadd helped Gonzalez get an interview, as did his track record. He has strong communication skills, is respected by his players and learned from Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox — a 1995 World Series champion in Atlanta — as a Braves coach from 2003-06.
Gonzalez took over for Cox in Atlanta for the 2011 season. He guided the Braves to the postseason in 2012 and 2013. They had 96 wins in 2013, securing the NL East title, but lost in the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For subscribers: Making the case for the Tigers hiring A.J. Hinch as next manager
Although Gonzalez has only been to the playoffs twice, he had winning records in five of the eight seasons he completed as a manager.
In Gonzalez’s first season as a manager for the Marlins in 2007, he watched over a young Miguel Cabrera, who is now 37 years old and has three years left on his contract with the Tigers.
Why Gonzalez doesn’t make sense
After the 2006 season, Gonzalez took leadership of the Marlins following the firing of Joe Girardi — then the reigning National League Manager of the Year — because of a dispute with owner Jeffrey Loria. By June 2010, Gonzalez was fired, too, despite leading the team to back-to-back winning seasons, albeit without making the playoffs.
“This team seems to be stuck in neutral, and our competitors are on the accelerator,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said in 2010. “We were looking for a leadership change to hopefully get us on the accelerator. That’s a big part of what we did today.”
That’s not where the Tigers want to end up.
Gonzalez wasn’t headed in the right direction through 70 games (34 wins) in 2010, even with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez on the roster. Still, maybe he wasn’t the problem, considering the Marlins didn’t make the playoffs until 2020.
A similar situation occurred in 2013 when Gonzalez led the Braves to the NLDS but got beat in four games by the Dodgers. The roster was loaded with talent — Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel — but Gonzalez couldn’t get them over the hump. He was fired three years later when the Braves dropped to an MLB-worst 9-28 to start the 2016 season.
He returned to the Marlins as the third base coach from 2017-19 and then joined the Orioles in 2020.
The Tigers want to compete for a World Series again, but that’s something Gonzalez has never done as a manager. He has only been to the playoffs twice — both resulting in quick exits. As much as Gonzalez knows how to develop talent and stay competitive with rivals, can he help the Tigers find sustainable postseason success?
His track record suggests he would deliver a few playoff appearances only to fall short, eventually forcing the Tigers back into a new rebuild.
“I don’t look at trying to hire a guy for a year or two, and then move on,” Avila said. “You’re always trying to hire the guy that you feel can take you as far as you need to go.”
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.