| Detroit Free Press
Why Detroit Tigers’ Ron Gardenhire is retiring immediately
Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire met with reporters Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 to announce Gardenhire’s immediate retirement.
The World Series holds significance for the Detroit Tigers‘ managerial vacancy. The clash between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays began Tuesday, and the moment it ends the Tigers can get on the phone with two ex-managers with championship rings.
A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora — both involved in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal in 2017 — will be freed from their one-year ban from MLB. The Tigers are going to get in touch with them. The Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox, both with manager needs, are expected to reach out to one or both, as well.
In the meantime, the Tigers have looked in other directions.
General manager Al Avila has conducted interviews with Dodgers first base coach George Lombard and New York Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames. Avila recently added Kansas City Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol to that group, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, as well as Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, according to The Athletic.
Grifol, 50, had a “strong interview,” Morosi said, and he is among the top candidates for the job, along with Lombard, Thames, Hinch, Cora and interim manager Lloyd McClendon. Other possibilities include Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez and Chicago Cubs third base coach Will Venable.
“There’s a lot of names on the list right now,” Avila said in early October.
While the Tigers are going to hold off on making a hire until after the World Series, Grifol has longtime connections to Avila and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past.
Why Grifol makes sense
Avila wants an experienced manager with a wide range of baseball knowledge, which gives Grifol a significant edge.
Grifol has worked for the Royals for eight years, beginning as a special assignment coach in 2013. He was the hitting coach in 2013-14, the catching coach from 2014-17 and the team’s quality control and catching coach in 2018-19.
In 2020, Grifol became the bench coach under new manager Mike Matheny.
Before jumping on with the Royals, Grifol spent 13 years with the Seattle Mariners. He was an area scout for South Florida and Puerto Rico in 2000-05, manager of Class-A Everett in 2003-05, coordinator of instruction in 2006-08 and director of minor league operations in 2008-11.
Late in the 2010 season, amid a managerial change, Grifol coached on the major-league staff while continuing his duties as the team’s farm system director. In 2012, he managed Single-A High Desert to an 83-57 record before leaving for the Royals.
Grifol played college baseball for Florida State and was picked in the sixth round of the 1991 draft. He spent nine seasons in the minors between the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets. Grifol did not play in the majors, but the ex-catcher relates well to his players.
There’s a lot to like about Grifol’s background, and already he has a close relationship with Avila.
Here’s what Morosi wrote: “Tigers general manager Al Avila has known Grifol for more than 30 years, dating back to Grifol’s standout playing career at Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School. Avila was a baseball coach at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens during the late 1980s, and Avila became familiar with Grifol through amateur baseball in South Florida at that time.”
It helps that Grifol is bilingual; he speaks English and Spanish.
Why Grifol doesn’t make sense
Avila’s interest, or lack thereof, in Kelly might signify where Grifol stands in the managerial search. A fan favorite for the Tigers from 2009-14, Kelly has been promoted three times in three years and has experience as a scout, first base coach and bench coach.
But that doesn’t seem to be enough.
Kelly reportedly isn’t a top candidate and projects to return to the Pirates for the 2021 season. Grifol may not be a front-runner for the job, either, but he has spent seven years coaching in the majors, as opposed to Kelly’s two, and the experience might be enough to make him a more viable option.
Grifol was considered for the Tigers’ vacancy after the 2017 season. To compare, Kelly was only one year removed from his playing career and serving as a scout and assistant on the team’s player development staff.
“There are guys out there that have managerial experience,” Avila said. “There are guys that do not have managerial experience, but there are guys that have coaching experience. I’m not gonna predict anything, but I guess 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. I probably wouldn’t go that way.”
Still, Kelly’s situation could be an indicator of Avila’s approach. If managerial experience is acquired, then consider Hinch, Cora and Gonzalez frontrunners for the job.
And yet, if the Tigers are willing to hire a first-time manager (with upside) on a short-term contract to build them toward contention, such as the Chicago White Sox did with now-fired manager Rick Renteria, a person such as Grifol would make sense.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and Grifol already has built a rapport after interviewing with the Tigers in 2017 (hired Ron Gardenhire), the San Francisco Giants in 2018 (Gabe Kepler) and the Royals in 2019 (Matheny).
Despite being passed up, there’s an industry-wide belief that Grifol will manage in the majors before his coaching career concludes.
And it could be for the Tigers in 2021 and beyond.