DETROIT — The rebuilding Detroit Tigers will start fresh next season with a new manager.
The Tigers announced Friday that Brad Ausmus will not return in 2018 after four years in charge. General manager Al Avila said the team was not extending Ausmus’ contract.
"We didn’t win," Avila said while announcing the move in the Detroit dugout before Friday night’s game. "The organization, the club, got to a point where we needed change on the field. We needed to change the roster, and we started trading players, so the conclusion is: OK, you know what? Let’s just take a whole brand new road and opening up to new things."
Detroit was the first team this season to announce a managerial change.
Ausmus is 312-326 after Friday’s 7-3 loss to Minnesota. His tenure included an AL Central title in his first season, but the Tigers have not made the post-season since.
Detroit has been shedding payroll this year, trading stars Justin Verlander , Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez , and the Tigers are assured of no better than a fourth-place finish in their division.
"Al and I have become very good friends over the four years I was here, so it was a little emotional when he told me he wasn’t going to bring me back," the 48-year-old Ausmus said. "Quite frankly, I told him I fully understood, and I told him, if he had walked in and offered me a contract, I probably wouldn’t have come back, because I think this team, this organization is starting over. They need a new voice."
A few hours later, after Friday’s game, Ausmus said he’d known for about a month he wasn’t planning to come back.
Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland before the 2014 season, inheriting a star-laden roster, but one that was starting to show the effects of age.
Detroit went 86-75 last year and nearly made the playoffs, and the Tigers kept their team largely intact, hoping they could contend again in 2017. Ausmus returned as well this year after Detroit exercised his option, but the Tigers weren’t even able to mount a challenge for a wild card.
Ausmus had little managerial experience when he took over for Leyland, but the former major league catcher initially looked like exactly the type of younger, fresher voice who could help the Tigers keep their run of success going. Detroit started 27-12 in 2014, but that turned into an up-and-down season in which the Tigers finally wrapped up their fourth straight division title on the final day of the regular season. They were then swept by Baltimore in the Division Series.
After an 11-2 start in 2015, Detroit eventually fell well behind first-place Kansas City, and the Tigers traded stars David Price and Yoenis Cespedes during that season.
The Tigers spent big in an attempt to return to the playoffs the following season, but after acquiring Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, the team fell just short of a wild card in 2016.
Avila indicated he’d be interested in hiring someone with a bit more experience as a manager or coach than Ausmus had when he took over.
"I would say the manager doesn’t have to have managerial experience at the major league level," Avila said. "But he certainly has to have managerial experience, in my opinion, in the minor leagues or coaching experience at the major leagues, so that the person that comes in is well prepared in that sense."
Whoever becomes the next manager will have a roster much different than what Ausmus took over when he arrived.
"When Brad came in, in 2014, that was when I made my debut. He was really the new guy trying to fit in. Team had just won three straight AL Central titles," catcher James McCann said. "Whoever does come in, you’re basically setting your own standard. It’s not coming into a team that’s just won three straight AL Central titles."
Miguel Cabrera is still under contract for a while, but Detroit’s success will likely hinge on the contributions of its younger players. Right-hander Michael Fulmer was solid this year after winning Rookie of the Year honours in 2016, and third baseman Jeimer Candelario has hit well since coming to the organization in a July trade .
"Whoever calls or has interest in this position comes in fully aware, wide eyed, of what he’s walking into," Avila said. "But in saying that, while it’s a very difficult process, it’s also going to be a tremendous opportunity."
Avila said he’d be open-minded about any current Detroit coach interested in the job. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, for example, has managed multiple major league teams in the past.
Ausmus said he’d like to manage again at some point, but it’s time for him and the Tigers to go on different paths.
"Everyone will just part ways very amicably. No hard feelings," Ausmus said. "I wish Al the best. I think he’s got the organization pointed in the right direction."