One last go-around for Jim Leyland as Detroit Tigers’ manager. The other day he agreed to a one-year deal to come back and lead the gang through a the 2013 pennant race. After leading the Tigers to the World Series how could Detroit not ask him back? And coming so close and figuring the talent will be close to the same, how could Leyland not sign on for one more try at a world championship before retiring?
Leyland is 67 so he wasn’t looking for a multi-year contract. Almost surely if the Tigers had won it all this year he would have chosen to ride off into the sunset, probably on one of those flat-bed trucks they deploy in victory parades. He would kept right on going from the parade over the border into Canada or something.
The Tigers came close, but they didn’t win it all, so you can’t blame Leyland for thinking that he is well-positioned to make another serious run at the Series next year. The starting pitching is there. The basic hitting is there. The basic lineup is more or less set. Delmon Young may split, but Victor Martinez should be back. There will be a search for a new closer, and general bullpen shoring up, but starters Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer are the core of a good rotation and Prince Fielder and Mr. Triple Crown Miguel Cabrera are the core of a menacing batting order.
Fans are impatient and demanding and in the middle of the season when the Tigers were stumbling some called for Leyland to be fired. That was silly. Leyland is one of the top managers in the sport and he was no worse then than he was at the end of the year when the Tigers won the American League Central Division title, and knocked off the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees in the playoffs to reach the World Series. So he put a few more notches on his resume and is perhaps now better appreciated.
Everyone knows 2013 will be Leyland’s last roundup. He might not dwell on it, but otherwise why wouldn’t he have sought a longer contract? One and done is it for Leyland, good, bad or ugly. If he didn’t believe the Tigers had it in them to win the Series next year he wouldn’t be coming back. With a team set up in this manner, that’s the only way to think. The Tigers aren’t playing to give youngsters experience. They aren’t playing with an eye to the long-term future when they might be contenders.
They are contenders. There is only one way to improve on 2012 and that’s to hoist the trophy. Until then the Tigers have to fight through another 162-game schedule, clinch a playoff berth, win a couple of rounds against American League foes, and then defeat whoever the National League sends forth to joust.
The Jim Leyland farewell tour is not going to be all bouquets and roses. It will take a lot of work, patience, and making the right calls to it to turn into a victory tour.