2011 was an up and down year for Tigers Manager Jim Leyland. Well, not really all that up and down on the field, but rather in his relationship with the media and it’s fans. There were several rants from the sometimes touchy skipper of the Tigers, mostly to due with his lineup construction, or why a certain player was playing instead of a regular. The Tigers themselves were playing pretty good baseball, and in a pretty good battle with the Indians for the top spot in the A.L. Central. Then came the month of July, and a lot of Tigers fans were waiting for the annual 2nd half collapse under Leyland to come. Of course, the collapse never came, and the Tigers ran away with the division.
Even though the Tigers were still in the middle of a race at the time, the Tigers management gave Jim Leyland just a one year extension in the middle of the season. Leyland seemed okay with going year to year, and so did David Dombrowski and Owner Mike Ilitch. Jim Leyland may be wishing right now that he got a little more security than that.
Now, I am not suggesting that Jim Leyland doesn’t want Prince Fielder on his ball club. That would just be ridiculous. It is never a bad thing to add a player of that caliber to your team and lineup. Unless of course you are on a year to year basis with your contract situation. There are really only a couple negatives I can see from the signing. One is that the back half of this deal could be a real albatross to future Tigers teams. That one is obvious to a lot of people. The second negative is for Jim Leyland. He almost has to make a World Series in 2012, or it could be seen as a failure.
I’m not one for feeling bad for a Manager of a baseball team, or the head coaches of any sport really. The bottom line is if a team doesn’t have success, they get a lot of the blame for it. I think if you asked any of them, they know that this is the case. Owner and General Managers are obviously going to have some patience when it comes to teams that lack talent, but when it comes to teams that have talent, the pressure is on.
Things just got warmer for Jim Leyland today.
Leyland, whose best attribute is probably managing personalities in a clubhouse should get a pretty good test in this regard. He is going to have to convince his best player, who is getting paid less than the new guy, to move to 3rd base and do so because it’s best for the club. And it is best for the club. I am confident he can do that with relative ease. I don’t think that any of the position move, or salaries is going to be a problem on this club. The issue for Leyland is going to be with fan expectations.
The reality of the situation is that Tigers fans are extremely excited today. Talking to people around town tonight, the signing of Prince Fielder is at the forefront of a lot of people’s thoughts, and most are giddy of the potential for the Tigers to go deep into the playoffs. But is getting to the playoffs, and even making an ALCS enough to maintain people’s confidence in Jim Leyland? I am not so sure.
The Tigers were the heavy favorite to repeat as division champs just a couple of short weeks ago. Then the Martinez injury hit the news….and still….the Tigers were the heavy favorite to repeat as division champs in 2012. The Martinez injury didn’t change that at all. It certainly made Tigers fans question just how far they could go in the playoffs, but most were still expecting the Tigers to make it. Enter the Prince Fielder signing today, and Tigers fandom is renewed with a sense of believing their Tigers could go real far in 2012. If Jim Leyland fails to get them there, he could take some heat.
Now, obviously, if there is circumstances beyond Leyland’s control that prevent the Tigers from reaching their potential, he isn’t likely to be affected. If the Tigers remain relatively healthy however, he is going to have to get them to an ALCS in my opinion again to have a successful season and keep his job.
Deep down we all know that the players typically win and lose the games, but they are not as easy to part with when things don’t go right. It may be unfortunate, but it is the reality of Jim Leyland’s chosen profession. With high expectations comes the added pressure, and the expectations of everyone just went up today, including the guy that signs the checks.
Like I say, I am sure Jim Leyland is ecstatic to have a player of Fielder’s ability after the loss of Victor Martinez. But if Prince Fielder was a prescription for what was ailing the Tigers, the side effect would read, “take with caution, may cause the Manager stress and added pressure.”