“Out with the old and in with the new,” could have been the Tigers’ slogan during the winter months. Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante and Joaquin Benoit have moved on from the organization, either via trade or free agency.
With all the changes to the roster and coaching staff, a quick start is ideal for Tigers and will be beneficial for everyone in the organization, from Dave Dombrowski to the rookie third baseman on the roster.
Dombrowski and Leyland were partners in crime together in Detroit for eight seasons (2006-13). Leyland also managed the Florida Marlins for two seasons (1997-98) under Dombrowski. Together, the two appeared in three World Series, winning in 1997 with the Marlins, and five postseason appearances in 10 total seasons.
Leyland is still a member of the organization, but the reins have been given to Ausmus, the younger manager, who is already making his mark on the players.
Of course the play on the field will judge the success of the offseason, which means a fast start to the 2014 season will be important for the Tigers.
With all the offseason buzz over the past several seasons, the expectations for the club have been very high coming into April each season.
Over the past three seasons, the Tigers have finished above .500 in the month of April just once when they went 15-10 in 2013.
In past seasons, under consistent management and, for the most part, the same core players (excluding the forgettable offseason frenzy that occurred prior to the 2008 season), never felt threatened by the slower than expected starts.
The mantra of a “long season with plenty of baseball left” was echoed throughout Detroit, and in the long run, the Tigers still became division winners the past three seasons.
This season offers a different set of circumstances, similar to the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals and, to a smaller extent, the 2012 Chicago White Sox.
After defeating the Texas Rangers in a seven-game battle for the World Series title, the Cardinals Hall-of-Fame manager Tony LaRussa stepped down and Mike Matheny, a former catcher with no managerial experience, was hired in as the next manager of the Cardinals.
The Cardinals situation from 2012 is very similar to what the Tigers are facing in 2014. Both teams lost big-time power hitters (Albert Pujols and Fielder), and replaced them with young players who came up through the system (Allen Craig and Castellanos).
In 2012, the Cardinals had a winning mindset established from their previous manager that carried over to Matheny. Many questions were raised that offseason about how Matheny would be as a manager.
Robin Ventura faced the same skepticism in 2012 when he began his managerial career with the White Sox. The situation left behind by Ozzie Gullien was slightly different, but the idea of a first-time manager was still being used.
Both teams finished well in 2012; the Cardinals went 88-74, appearing in the NLCS, and despite finishing 85-77, the White Sox ended the regular season three games behind the Tigers.
How did these teams maintain success?
Both of these teams silenced the critics early. The Cardinals held a 14-8 record in April, and the White Sox also had a fast start as they were seven games above .500 through the month of May.
A quick start for Ausmus in 2014, similar to Matheny and the Cardinals in 2012, would silence any critics of the offseason moves and new managerial acquisition, allowing the Tigers to focus on what is most important in 2014, winning ball games.
Where does this start for the Tigers? Who can kickstart the season? For me, it all starts with the rotation. The “Big 3″ of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez will lead the rotation in 2014 that is missing Doug Fister.
As I previously wrote, Porcello has the ability to replace Fister’s production in the rotation, but it all starts with Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez for the Tigers.
Verlander has figured out how to start the year better than he did in previous seasons, which will benefit the 2014 team as he looks to approach the ace status he possessed in previous seasons.
In Clay Davenport’s first projections for 2014, the Tigers finished with 91 wins, the most in the majors. The co-founder of Baseball Prospectus still sees the Tigers as an elite team, which they look like on paper.
To get to the 90-win benchmark, which will most likely win the division, the Tigers will need a fast start this season. A slow start could raise questions towards the offseason moves that have been much speculated.
That is the first major bump in the road for the 2014 Tigers, getting through the first month with a new manager who has no experience on the job.
If Ausmus can begin his season in the dugout with many positives, the leadership role will come much easier for him. Remember, a baseball team, for the most part, takes on the personality of its manager.
Look for Ausmus to make a quick start much more important to the team’s success than in previous seasons.