Jim Leyland insisted throughout the latter part of the season that there would be a time and a place to discuss his managing future.
That moment came Tuesday – when the Detroit Tigers announced Leyland would be back in 2013 with a one-year contract extension.
”I really don’t know why this is such a shock to everybody, because we told everybody that we weren’t going to talk about this until after the season,” Leyland said. ”It’s not even 48 hours and it’s done. I think it was pretty much exactly like we had planned it.”
The Tigers and their manager quickly ended any remaining speculation about his status, just two days after Detroit was swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. Leyland was managing on a one-year deal this year as well – and he seems comfortable taking his future year by year at this point in his career.
”I’m going to be here in 2013, and we’ll take that from there,” Leyland said. ”I wanted to manage, but I did think long and hard about it, because I wanted to make sure that I was going to be doing everything that you need to do to continue to keep this club headed in the right direction.”
The 67-year-old Leyland leads all active managers with 1,676 wins, a total that puts him 15th on the career list. Next season will be his 22nd as a major league manager and his eighth in Detroit. He’s led the Tigers to the postseason three times and the World Series twice.
Leyland’s coaching staff is also expected back, although some roles within it could be altered.
By the time the World Series started, general manager Dave Dombrowski had indicated Leyland would be welcome back in 2013, but both the manager and GM sought to postpone any public discussion of his status until after the season.
”I think he pretty much understood that we wanted him back, but it was not something that he really wanted to talk about,” Dombrowski said. ”When you know somebody for an extended time, you know what areas you prefer to leave untouched – you don’t talk about certain things until it’s that time.”
Detroit faced high expectations this year after signing slugger Prince Fielder in the offseason. By mid-September, Leyland’s future seemed uncertain as the Tigers struggled to keep pace in the AL Central, but they overtook the Chicago White Sox to win the division and then beat Oakland and the New York Yankees in the American League playoffs.
Despite the poor showing in the World Series, it was a happy enough ending for Leyland, who is well aware of the occasional criticism from fans and talk-show callers when things aren’t going well.
”Probably `Tom in Royal Oak’ isn’t too happy right now, but that’s OK.” Leyland said. ”That’s just the way it goes. I’m sorry Tom, but I’m back.”
With Leyland remaining in charge, the Tigers can turn their attention to the rest of the offseason. They exercised a $6 million option on shortstop Jhonny Peralta and a $3.5 million option on RHP Octavio Dotel. Each had carried a $500,000 buyout.
Detroit is prepared to let closer Jose Valverde and designated hitter Delmon Young leave via free agency. Valverde had a poor postseason, and Young’s spot will be taken by Victor Martinez, who is set to return next year from the knee injury that kept him out all of 2012.
The Tigers will try to re-sign free agent right-hander Anibal Sanchez, but he figures to be one of the top starting pitchers on the market.
”I had a great conversation with him the other night,” Leyland said. ”I told him, `This is your chance, chase it, be happy. … I’m telling you right now to your face, I really want you back. But this is your time. Go take advantage of it.”’
Dombrowski sounded confident Detroit might find an in-house candidate to close next year in Valverde’s absence. The Tigers still have right-hander Joaquin Benoit in their bullpen.
Minor leaguer Bruce Rondon has turned heads, too.
”People don’t sometimes believe this, but it is true. He averages 100 miles an hour and topped off at 103, and throws his breaking stuff for consistent strikes,” Dombrowski said. ”This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer, and normally you’re not going to thrust that in a young guy’s hands and say automatically, `It’s your job’ – but it would not surprise me if he earned that job. With the number of good arms that are out there, there are not many arms like this, and he cherishes that type of role.”
Detroit also has several regular players eligible for arbitration, which could inflate the payroll. Among them are catcher Alex Avila, reliever Phil Coke, center fielder Austin Jackson and starters Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.