Just after Jim Leyland told the world Monday morning he will not return as the Detroit Tigers manager next season, the name of Diamondbacks’ skipper Kirk Gibson immediately rose to the front.
A native of Michigan and former Tiger great, Gibson appeared to be a reasonable replacement and one who likely would endear fans and media. Gibson played 11 seasons in two stints with the Tigers and served as commentator on Detroit TV broadcasts. Gibson repairs back to the Michigan woods each off-season and attends Tigers’ post-season games over the past few years.
Yet, he remains under contract to the Diamondbacks for 2014 and has options for the 2015 and 2016 season. Firmly part of the present and immediate future, the bottom line is Gibson will remain in Sedona Red.
When D-backs CEO Derrick Hall told the Arizona Republic Monday that the Arizona organization would not give permission for Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski to interview Gibson, the response was direct, “(Gibson’s) not going anyway,” Hall said.
With one year remaining in his obligation to the Diamondbacks, Gibson appears pretty much a fixture in the desert. Joining the organization in 2007 as bench coach and promoted to manager in July, 2010 when A. J. Hinch was fired, Gibson has the support and confidence of Hall and Ken Kendrick, the managing general partner.
Yet, results or lack of results in recent years have come into question.
Since winning the National League West Division title in 2011, Gibson’s subsequent two years are mediocre. In both 2012 and 2013, the Diamondbacks finished with exact 81-81 records and showed no improvement.
Dombrowski told the media at the Leyland press conference Monday previous manager experience was important but not mandatory for the new Detroit skipper.
Clearly, Gibson would arrive in the Motor City with firm managerial credentials, but also with baggage.
Even if Gibson was available and the Tigers showed interest, Gibson’s track record in Arizona may not make him an attractive candidate.
One rumbling from Diamondbacks players this past season was Gibson’s penchant “to keep players fresh.” That meant juggling the lineup on nearly a daily basis. In early August and the pennant race heating up, some players felt tinkering with the lineup was like playing with fire.
By inserting players in and out of the lineup, Gibson prevented from any kind of player familiarity to develop and roles, nearly day-to-day, were unknown.
Martin Prado, perhaps the Diamondbacks most consistent hitter over the final three months of the season, ended up on a merry-go-round that stopped at second base, third base and left field.
“When I was Oakland, I remember Leyland putting in a player here or a player there, but didn’t change the batting order,” said closer Brad Ziegler just before the Diamondbacks scattered for the off-season. “If he replaced Miguel Cabrera, that guy hit in Cabrera’s spot. So, if you hit eighth, you remained eighth and that helped Leyland set a lineup based on chemistry among the players.”
While Gibson might be first-thought as an ideal candidate, and likely because of his ties to the Tigers and the state of Michigan, a closer look might reveal areas of concern.
Would Gibson platoon a productive but aging Torii Hunter in right field? How about a Detroit bullpen which imploded as much in the post-season as the Diamondbacks pen in the regular season. What about Dan Kelly in left and would Gibson switch between Jhonny Peralta and Jose Iglesias at shortstop. And, how would he handle Prince Fielder’s post-season power drought?
After his recent season in the desert, Gibson has too many issues to address. Coming into spring training, the specter of retaining his job may be as important to Gibson as forging a competitive team.
While the thought of Jim Leyland’s replacement is tempting, Gibson needs to resolve several issues, some of his doing, before he becomes an attractive a candidate elsewhere.