Before George Lombard became a rising name in coaching circles, he was once a highly touted outfield prospect who played exactly half his 144 Major League games with the Tigers in 2002. Marcus Thames was a 26-homer slugger on Detroit’s '06 World Series team and had a 25-homer season there two years later before embarking on his second career as Yankees hitting coach. Both are candidates to lead the Tigers' latest group of prospects to the next level.
Lombard, now the Dodgers’ first-base coach, and Thames have interviewed for the Tigers’ managerial opening, sources told MLB.com on Wednesday. The recent interviews took place virtually, as the Dodgers are currently in the bubble in Texas for the National League Championship Series and the Yankees were just eliminated from the American League Division Series in San Diego last week. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi first reported the Tigers’ interest in Lombard last week.
Lombard and Thames join longtime Tigers coach Lloyd McClendon as candidates who have interviewed. McClendon interviewed at season’s end after serving as interim manager following Ron Gardenhire’s retirement in September. Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, another former Tigers player, is also expected to interview as general manager Al Avila ramps up the search among a large pool of candidates.
The Tigers have not confirmed interviews or candidates, other than Avila said earlier this month that former Astros manager AJ Hinch and former Red Sox manager Alex Cora are on his list. Both Hinch and Cora are finishing out their suspensions from MLB resulting from sign-stealing investigations and cannot talk with any clubs about jobs until the World Series ends.
The 45-year-old Lombard brings an impressive background in player development, from his playing career as a former top prospect and parts of six big league seasons to his ascent through the Minor Leagues as a coach and instructor. He managed for two seasons in the Red Sox farm system and later worked as an outfield and baserunning coordinator, overseeing Mookie Betts’ transition from second base to the outfield in the process. He has been first-base coach for Dave Roberts’ entire five-year tenure as Dodgers manager. Lombard also earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2015.
Thames just finished his third season as Yankees hitting coach, where his success working with players of all levels has made him a star behind the scenes. His coaching resume has revolved around hitting, from his three seasons coaching in the Yankees' farm system to his two seasons as the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach before his promotion. If the Tigers are going to build an offense to go with their pitching prospects, they’re going to have to find the kind of hitters Thames has helped flourish in New York, including Gio Urshela and Luke Voit.
The 43-year-old Thames carries a lot of respect in the Tigers' organization from his playing days. His two former managers in Detroit, Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland, are both special assistants to Avila. He’s also a former teammate of Miguel Cabrera, whose production as a hitter remains crucial for the Tigers to return to contention.
The Tigers aren’t expected to rush into a hire, in part due to the delayed availability of Hinch and Cora. But the White Sox decision earlier this week to part ways with manager Rick Renteria has added an appealing job to the list of openings for candidates to consider. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters Monday that the next manager will most likely come from outside the organization. He said the ideal candidate would have experience with a recent championship club.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox's decision to retain most of their coaching staff but not manager Ron Roenicke has raised speculation about a possible return for Cora, who either worked with or hired all the returning coaches. If Cora returns to Boston and Chicago were to hire Hinch, the Tigers could face a limited pool of former managers.