Will he or won't he be back in the Tigers dugout for an eighth season next year?
This may have been Leyland's most difficult season as Tigers manager with expectations sky-high for a team that went to the ALCS last year and added free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder in the offseason.
A contingent of Tigers fans—at the very least, an extremely vocal minority of those who post comments on blogs and message boards and call into sports talk radio—frequently called for Leyland's job, as it appeared throughout the season that Detroit might lose the AL Central to the Chicago White Sox and not even make the playoffs.
Leyland also went through the year as a so-called lame duck, managing through the end of his contract with no word of an extension during the season.
Perhaps that was Leyland's choice. At 67 years old with seven years as Tigers manager on his résumé, maybe he wanted to see how the final year on his contract went before deciding whether or not he wanted to return.
Not offering Leyland a contract extension may also have carried a less-than-subtle message from the Tigers. You need to manage this team to the playoffs, Jim. Getting to the World Series and bringing a championship to Detroit would be nice, too.
But if the implicit expectation was to win the AL Central and qualify for the playoffs or else, Leyland fulfilled that objective. Therefore, a new contract would appear to be coming soon.
Leyland doesn't intend to retire, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler. And the Tigers aren't likely inclined to ease him out the door after he managed the team to the World Series.
Naturally, Leyland's job status was a topic of discussion with reporters after Sunday's (Oct. 29) Game 4 loss to the Giants. While the question had to be asked, the immediate aftermath of a World Series defeat was not the time nor place for Leyland to talk about coming back next year.
"I don't really know that," Leyland said to reporters, including MLB.com's Jason Beck. "We're going to talk about some things in a day or so, and I'm sure they'll have some type of an announcement. But tonight's not the night for that."
Leyland certainly wasn't going to say he's returning next year if he's received no such assurances from the Tigers front office. It's also fair to say that his negotiating position with general manager Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch is far stronger than it was a month ago.
Yet Leyland also made his intentions rather clear—and perhaps hurt that negotiating leverage—with the following statement.
"I'm not looking, in any way, shape, or form, to go anyplace else," he said. "This is my last stop."
So it's a return to the Tigers or retirement, it appears.
Would Dombrowski offer Leyland more than a one-year deal? That might be the right thing to do, so that the manager's contract status doesn't hang over the team throughout next season as it did this year. Yet Leyland may only want to commit to one year at a time.
Whether the anti-Leyland contingent of Tigers fans want to admit it or not, the Tigers manager has earned the privilege of leaving on his terms. If he wants to return, a contract offer should be ready for him. If he decides after some time off that a World Series berth was a nice note to end on, that should be his choice.
Eventually, the Tigers may also decide that they can't go year-to-year with Leyland anymore and that they need to think about a longer-term future with a manager.
First-base coach Tom Brookens has seemingly been groomed to be the team's next manager, but after three years likely to become four, it's possible that the Tigers might want to try a different direction once Leyland retires.
There are several extremely appealing candidates out there for a future skipper. (One can only wonder if Dombrowski was somewhat disappointed to see Terry Francona take himself off the market and sign with a division rival in the Cleveland Indians.)
Former Tigers catcher Brad Ausmus has become an increasingly hot name among teams looking for a manager after a reportedly impressive interview with the Boston Red Sox. Managing the team he grew up rooting for was apparently appealing for Ausmus. But might he be interested in taking over a team whose owner has shown he'll spend bushels of money to build a winner?
What looks certain at this point is that anybody interested in the Tigers manager job will have to wait at least one more year to inquire about an opening. Leyland will be in the Comerica Park dugout next season.
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