At first the Braves' Fredi Gonzalez seemed the best bet to be the first manager to be fired. Then the Red Sox's John Farrell became the temporary front-runner. More recently, the Tigers' Brad Ausmus appeared to take the lead.
In each case, including Ausmus', such talk is premature -- and not simply because the calendar still reads April.
The Braves are so bad that dismissing Gonzalez would be pointless. The Red Sox are one game over .500 due to injuries and pitching lapses. And the Tigers are .500 due to poor performances by Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton and sub-par starting pitching after Jordan Zimmermann.
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None of the managers of those three clubs is exactly secure, but Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently gave a vote of confidence to Farrell, telling the Boston Herald, "I think he's a good manager, actually." The Tigers, meanwhile, remain firmly behind Ausmus, according to major-league sources.
A 7-3 victory over the Athletics on Monday night, featuring two homers by Cabrera, enabled the Tigers to breathe after getting swept at home by the Indians over the weekend. Zimmermann, of course, started the game. His ERA is 0.35. The combined ERAs of the Tigers' other four starters is 5.84.
Frank Thomas and Dontrelle Willis spoke on FOX Sports 1 before Monday's game about a lack of leadership in the Tigers' clubhouse, and they had a point. Former manager Jim Leyland, going back to his days with Barry Bonds, had a way of motivating stars. Ausmus is not as edgy as Leyland was, and Cabrera, for all his gifts, is no Torii Hunter. The clubhouse has been quieter, one source said, because so many players are searching for their own answers.
This is a team coming off a last-place finish in the AL Central, a 74-win season. Ausmus, regardless of whether he truly is to blame, will lose his job if the team fails to ignite with a payroll of nearly $200 million. But the true issue with the Tigers -- the enduring issue -- is their inefficient roster construction.
Imagine if the Tigers had parted with Cabrera the way the Cardinals parted with Albert Pujols, and declined to re-sign Verlander after the completion of his initial five-year, $80 million deal in 2014. They still would have enjoyed their great run from '11 to '14, the four straight division titles, three straight appearances in the ALCS, one World Series bid. But they would not have been left with Verlander through his age 36 season in 2019 and Cabrera through his age 40 season in '23.
For better or worse, owner Mike Ilitch spends and spends. So naturally, he again went crazy on free agents last off-season, signing Upton for $132.75 million, Zimmermann for $110 million, right-handed starter Mike Pelfrey for $16 million, reliever Mark Lowe for $11 million. The Tigers also added infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on lesser deals, plus outfielder Cameron Maybin and relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson in trades.
The bullpen, despite a few hiccups, looks reasonably improved. But the offense has been inconsistent, the defense below-average. And though Verlander has produced three quality starts in four outings, Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene have been mostly awful -- and now Greene appears headed to the disabled list due to a blister on his right middle finger.
The Tigers do not lack for possible replacements -- Matt Boyd, Buck Farmer and Michael Fulmer are candidates to take Greene's next start, and Daniel Norris is expected back soon from a lower back strain. The team also will benefit from the eventual returns of Maybin and catcher James McCann, though Saltalamacchia's six homers have proven a godsend.
Whatever, other problems surely will emerge. The Tigers face the usual age/injury concerns with Cabrera, Victor Martinez and others. And their schedule, after three more home games against the Athletics and three in Minnesota, will become quite difficult -- three in Cleveland, three at home against Texas, six on the road against Washington and Baltimore.
At least for the moment, the Royals, Indians and White Sox all look like better teams than the Tigers, and none of those teams costs anywhere close to $200 million. Ausmus is set up to take the fall; that's how these things usually work. But does anyone seriously think a managerial change would solve the Tigers' problems?