Published July 29, 2017
There’s an old, apocryphal scenario about Hollywood casting that’s been around for decades.
“What about Actor A?” it’s suggested to the producer.
“He’s not right for the part. Don’t want him.”
“What about Actor B?”
“Also not good.”
The casting director sighs and suggests Actor C.
The producer frowns. “Also not good.”
“That’s OK,” the casting director says. “He’s not available anyway.”
The producer perks up. “Not available?! Then we HAVE to have him!”
In professional sports, head coaches and managers who are free agents, eager and willing to take their next gig, don’t always move the meter of interest from teams looking for their next leader.
But the allure of those who are under contract with other teams has quite a pull.
The Tigers will almost certainly have a managerial vacancy to fill before the 2018 season. Complicating matters is that the person who would be making that hire might not currently be on the team’s payroll.
The Tigers are in a bad way on so many fronts. This isn’t news, I know. But it bears repeating.
An aging, slow, plodding, shabby defensive roster, a meager farm system, and an ornery fan base—for starters—all make for a tempest in a teapot for the Tigers’ next field general.
In MLB circles, the Tigers skipper job isn’t exactly a plum, team tradition and history notwithstanding.
But there’s a man sitting next to Joe Maddon in the Cubs dugout who might take a phone call from Tigers owner Chris Ilitch.
I don’t know if Dave Martinez is getting restless in Chicago, as Maddon’s bench coach—a position he’s held in Tampa and the Windy City since 2008. I don’t know if he’d take a quick look at the Tigers’ current situation as a franchise and let Little Mr. I’s call go to voice mail.
But I also don’t think that Martinez, a 52-year-old former big league player, wants to be the second banana until he hangs up his cleats.
Maddon and his larger than life personality cast a wide shadow. He’s the type of skipper whose bench coach can seem like Ed McMahon to Maddon’s Johnny Carson.
And we all know how “Star Search” turned out.
But Martinez is a wise baseball man, clearly ready to run his own team. Maddon was delighted to bring Martinez with him to Chicago after leaving Tampa after the 2014 season.
In fact, Martinez was the only coach from the Rays that Maddon brought with him to the Cubs.
“At least I was able to get Davey up here, which definitely helped, because he was able to carry the message,” Maddon said about Martinez when the Colorado Rockies were looking for a new manager last November and talked to Martinez. The Rockies ended up hiring ex-Padres skipper Bud Black.
Martinez has been interviewed multiple times for vacant managerial jobs. The Dodgers brought him in before hiring Dave Roberts in 2015. The Cubs spoke to Martinez in 2013 before hiring Rick Renteria, who only lasted one season before being replaced by…Joe Maddon.
A major beef the Tigers fan base has about Brad Ausmus—one that I don’t necessarily share—is Ausmus’ thin resume, post-playing days.
“The Tigers should never have hired a rookie manager! Not for a veteran team!”
Oh, to have a dime every time an iteration of the above appeared in the comments sections on the Web or over the airwaves on sports talk radio.
No such criticism can be leveled at Dave Martinez. He’s been beside Maddon on the bench since 2008 after spending one year as first base coach for the Rays. At 52, Martinez is primed for a long career as a big league skipper. But would he want to ply that trade in Detroit, given the Tigers’ tenuous—and that’s probably being kind—future?
Again, it’s worth a phone call.
The Dodgers and Cubs jobs that Martinez interviewed for had considerably more pluses than does the Tigers’ current one, no question.
But when you’re itching to run your own club, and you keep not getting the rose, it would be hard to turn down another opportunity for an interview.
The Tigers do offer some things.
There’s the aforementioned tradition, which was also a hook with the Dodgers and Cubs. Countless baseball people will tell you that something special happens to a man when he slips into that creamy white jersey with the Old English D on the left breast.
There’s a fan base that’s eager for just about any warm body not named Brad Ausmus. Because of that, Martinez would be given a wide berth, especially when you factor in the rebuilding phase that’s about to occur in Detroit.
There are some young pieces that could develop. Michael Fulmer, Nicholas Castellanos, Dixon Machado, Mikie Mahtook and a couple kids in the low minors could, with the proper guidance, form a core around which to build.
What the Tigers can’t offer Martinez or any candidate is winning in the near future.
But this wouldn’t be like bringing in poor Alan Trammell in 2003 and providing him with a joke of a roster. The Tigers may be in a bad way now, but they’re not 2003-bad. They won’t go 43-119 in 2018.
The $64,000 question is whether Dave Martinez wants to cut his managerial teeth with a team that could be the AL Central’s punching bag for the next few seasons.
Then again, expectations would be the lowest they’ve been around here since, well, 2003.
Martinez badly wanted the Cubs job in 2013.
“Getting this job would be awesome,” Martinez said back then. “It’s where I started my whole career. [Wrigley Field] is probably the best field I’ve ever played on.”
Funny how things work out. Martinez lost out to Renteria in 2013, but he ended up with the Cubs anyway—as the next best thing to being manager in Wrigley Field. But Martinez can’t wait forever. Nor would he be expected to do so.
Yet Maddon doesn’t appear to be considering retirement. If he was, Martinez would almost certainly be tabbed to replace him, probably without any real interviews. Any other choice as Maddon’s replacement would be criminal.
Joe Maddon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Martinez is skipper-blocked with the Cubs.
Another bitch the fans have about the Tigers under Ausmus has to do with fundamentals—not the least of which is base running.
Glad you asked about base running (whether you did or not), because Martinez specializes in teaching base running and has done so ever since he took on the role of being Maddon’s second.
Cubs GM Theo Epstein was adamant when he hired Maddon that the coaching staff was set; the new manager would have to acquiesce. It was an unusual setup but Maddon agreed to it. Epstein did allow Maddon to bring his own bench coach: Dave Martinez. There had to be some give and take in negotiations with the well-respected Maddon.
There’s a reason that Maddon wanted Martinez by his side with the Cubs. There are probably several of them.
Whether you are pro-Brad Ausmus, neutral, or anti-, it just doesn’t seem conceivable that he’ll be brought back for a fifth season with the Tigers, especially with a rebuild on the horizon. Teams usually bring in new skippers for that kind of an impending era.
So to recap, you have a man in Dave Martinez who’s eager to manage in the big leagues and who’s in his ninth year of being the bench coach for a man who’s gone to two World Series, winning one. You have a man in Martinez who specializes in fundamentals, especially base running.
If Martinez thinks the Cubs and Dodgers offer tradition, what would he say about the Tigers?
The World Series championship drought in Detroit is 33 years and counting. It may run close to 40 years if the Tigers aren’t careful.
Dave Martinez might not be the guy on whose watch the drought ends. But I think he’s got the chops to massage a rebuild, even if it means handing the team off in a few years so he can move onto his next challenge.
It’s worth a phone call.