Gardenhire, shuffled staff look ahead to '20

December 11th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- One of the first questions Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire fielded at his Winter Meetings media session was how long it took him after the season to decompress.

"Who said I'm decompressed?" Gardenhire said with a smile. "Still working on it."

A 114-loss season requires some recovery time. It also requires some introspection.

With an inexperienced, injury-depleted roster, no one expected a successful 2019 season in Detroit. But the depths of the struggles wore on everyone, including a manager and coaching staff forced to spend more time teaching than most Major League staffs. It wore on everyone down the stretch.

"You look back at it and it was rough," Gardenhire said. "You try to put it away, but I still think a lot about it. I still think of how proud I was of how hard those kids played all the way to the end and how good the clubhouse remained, even though we were losing, which is hard to do, too.

"Give credit to my coaching staff for being out there and listening to them and helping them through. There was a lot of good things that happened. The record wasn't one of them."

When the season ended, Gardenhire opted to shuffle his coaching staff rather than make wholesale changes. The only departure was bench coach Steve Liddle, who retired. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon moved into Liddle's spot, while quality control coach Joe Vavra moved to hitting coach, his old role under Gardenhire in Minnesota. First-base coach Ramon Santiago and third-base coach Dave Clark traded jobs, while Josh Paul joined the staff from the Angels.

"My staff worked really, really hard. I just didn't feel like they should be punished by getting let go or anything like that," Gardenhire said. "We talked about just shaking it up and moving people around. Lloyd with the hitting was kind of burnt out. He worked his tail off with a lot of young kids. Joe's been a really good hitting coach, so we did a little flip-flop.

"The biggest thing for me was keeping my staff. I thought they worked their tails off and did a nice job and they stayed positive, and I think they deserve another shot at this."

They'll get another chance this coming season, the last year on Gardenhire's contract. After that, there are no guarantees, and Gardenhire isn't seeking any.

"When you lose 114 games, how comfortable can you be? I'm not worried about it," he said. "I didn't finish the season thinking, 'Boy, I can't wait until they extend me.' We talked about it and said, 'Let's just give this some time and see how everybody feels as we go along.' …

"We'll talk at the end of the season or somewhere during the season and I'll let him know whether I want to, or whether they want to. It's going to be a mutual thing. I'm not worried about that at all. That's the last thing. I've been managing a long time. What I want to see is us win ballgames."

That's fine with general manager Al Avila, who had a similar situation with Gardenhire's predecessor, Brad Ausmus.

"At this stage in his career, that's not going to bother him," Avila said. "Obviously, I'm comfortable like that, too. He's happy the way it is. I'm happy the way it is. He's going to be the same guy day in and day out. He's got a good staff, and he's actively trying to help us get better. It's a good relationship right now."

Gardenhire is encouraged by what he has heard about the Tigers' plans so far, that it's time to build. He wants to help the young players along, but he also wants improvement now. He doesn't want a repeat of the 2019 season.

Gardenhire knew the rebuilding season he was getting into when he took the job two years ago. That doesn't mean he wants to stick around for an indefinite amount of it.

"There's hope we're going to be better," he said. "We need to be better. We need to win games. Our fans saw a rough one last year, and we need to do something to improve that. We need to win games for the sanity of everybody involved -- you guys, too. It's time.

"And that's the good thing about it. We're talking about building now instead of rebuilding."