By Sean Gagnier
In light of Francona's hiring by the Cleveland Indians, it would be the right move for Detroit to hire Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitching coach Mike Butcher as the next manager.
Mike Illich is a fiercely loyal man, it is evident in the way that he treats members of the two sports teams that he owns. He knows family comes first and he will go out of his way to make sure everyone is in the best place, but it might be time for him to change his tune.
Indictment of Dave Dombrowski
Last season general manager Dave Dombrowski signed a four-year contract extension with the Tigers through the 2015 season. That however, may have been a bit premature.
It is known that the Prince Fielder trade reeks of Illich, meaning that he was tired of Dombrowski not pulling the trigger and did so himself. That was the first indication that things may be amiss in Tigertown. Dombrowksi told Tigers fans during Tiger Fest that he and the team were not pursuing Fielder and that he would not be a good fit for the club. Needless to say, Dombrowski was probably just as surprised as the rest of the baseball world when Fielder signed.
With the addition of Fielder to a club that was largely intact after a American League Championship Series run the year prior, expectations were high for Dombrowski and the Tigers, but they never got the ball rolling. Instead of running away with the division, they struggled to sustain win streaks and trailed the Chicago White Sox most of the season. With a little less than two weeks remaining in the 2012 season the Tigers trailed the White Sox in the Central Division by two games and the Wild Card by four games.
2012 was supposed to be a cakewalk for Detroit, it was anything but. The team that Dombrowski fielded struggled and was never able to get things together on both sides of the ball at the same time. Despite Illich's vote of confidence for Dombrowski in 2011 with his contact extension, the Tigers struggles could be grounds for early termination.
It took Dombrowski until August of the 2012 season to realize that he didn't have a second baseman on the roster, and when he did make a trade at the deadline he acquired yet another right-handed pitcher and regained Omar Infante while giving up two of the three remaining bright lights in the Detroit farm system.
With the Tigers farm system consisting almost entirely of Nick Castellanos, Dombrowski is mismanaging that as well. Castellanos has long been a third baseman, where his arm and bat are both a plus, but Dombrowski has shifted him to the outfield where his bat, arm and defensive ability are no longer a plus. Instead of shifting Castellanos to one of the middle infield positions where his major league club struggles, Dombrowski insists on creating yet another young outfielder for Detroit.
Mismanagement of the farm system and overall incompetence should cost Dombrowski his job, it is simply a matter of if Mr. Illich can see just how far Dombrowski has driven this club into the ground.
The Old Man
It is not a lack of respect that requires manager Jim Leyland leave this team, it is his overall failings this season. Leyland insisted on playing a rotation of Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth at second base, even admitting to mishandling Inge before doing the same thing with Raburn.
Countless failed roster lineups and explanations of those lineups that are beyond convoluted. When a player, Raburn, is hitting .160, it doesn't matter where he is playing or what he has done there in the past, he won't hit.
Aside from lineups, is Leyland's complete misuse of the Tigers bullpen throughout the season. Relievers are brought into games when they are not needed and Leyland has bought wholeheartedly into his friend, Tony La Russa's system of using pitchers for single outs and matchups. This piecemeal approach to relievers is outdated and damaging to the team. When your starter is still going strong or the reliever on the mound has struck out his last two batters, why take them out for the lefty reliever other than because of "the system?"
Perhaps it is his advanced age, but Leyland has a nasty habit of leaving some relievers in games much longer than any sane person should. It is one thing to leave a reliever on the mound who is hot, it is another entirely to leave a pitcher on the mound who is in the process of imploding. Take the Tigers early season collapse against the Seattle Mariners, Octavio Dotel couldn't find the plate and everyone except for Leyland apparently could see that. But Leyland allowed the game to get out of hand before he even placed a call to the bullpen.
The man knows baseball, but he seems to have lost a step and his mojo this season and for that he needs to get the boot after his contract expires after this season in order for this Tigers team to perform to it's potential.
With both Dombrowski and Leyland needing to be shown the door, there will need to be two new faces in Detroit. Personally, there is an affinity for the philosophy of Billy Beane, it's working in Oakland right now, and with the lack of talent in the farm system it is that philosophy that could save this club.
Billy Beane isn't leaving Oakland and Theo Epstein is comfortable in Chicago, but there is another. He currently works as the special assistant to New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and has eight years of general manager experience, his name is J.P. Ricciardi.
Ricciardi has bought into the "moneyball" philosophy and had his Toronto Blue Jays competing in the American League East each season, not finishing as high as he would have liked, but each Blue Jays team would have fared well in the much weaker American League Central.
If Ricciardi could come into the Tigers organization and add some young, cheap talent then he would be worlds better than Dombrowski ever was and could have the Tigers on the road to actually winning something.
Of course a general manager with no manager isn't likely to win many games, so Detroit must look to add someone who is different than Leyland, someone who understands how to use pitchers and how to set lineups. It appears that there could be quite a few openings for major league managing positions, but there is one name that has been thrown around Tigertown that could really shake things up, Terry Francona.
Francona has two World Series rings from the Boston Red Sox and understands how to run a club filled with big names and big contracts. Experience aside, Francona has had some history with the Tigers, serving as a coach in the past and even throwing batting practice to a young Prince Fielder at Tiger Stadium.
He has said that he would consider coaching again if the right job presented itself, and what better option could there be than a former club with three superstars and a legitimate shot at a World Series title in a town that loves the game? Let Tito watch begin.