DETROIT -- Despite rampant speculation that he would be dismissed at season's end, Brad Ausmus will return as manager for the Detroit Tigers in 2016.
Tigers general manager Al Avila informed the media of the decision Saturday before the club's 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Avila held a closed-door meeting to tell the team the decision before it took batting practice Saturday.
The rest of the Tigers' coaching staff also will be retained, Avila said.
Avila admitted 2015 has been a disappointing year. The Tigers are 72-82, their first losing season since 2008, and were mathematically eliminated from the postseason with Saturday's loss, marking the first time in five years they'll miss the playoffs. But Avila said that injuries have hampered the Tigers since the start of the season.
"From Day 1 we didn't have a chance. This has been a flawed team coming out of spring training because of all the injuries," Avila said, citing closer Joe Nathan, reliever Bruce Rondon, ace Justin Verlander and veteran Victor Martinez as some of the Tigers' players with early injury setbacks. "Right off the bat we faced adversity right there, and it didn't get any better, it got worse."
Ausmus said he was both "excited and relieved" to learn of the news.
"I'm happy to be back for sure," Ausmus said. "It's been a disappointing season like Al said, but the core group that is here afford the opportunity for a quick turnaround."
Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Ausmus would be axed after the season. At the time, Avila refuted the notion that a decision already had been made and instead said that the evaluation process was ongoing.
That evaluation process ended Friday, when Avila phoned Ausmus before the club's 6-4 win over the Twins and said he was keeping his job.
"When Al called me the morning after the story came out, I said, 'Al' -- and as I mentioned before Al and I have had a good relationship since I got here -- I said, 'Al, I'll keep doing it. I'll keep doing my job, nothing is going to change. If something happens, let me know,'" Ausmus said. "I completely trusted him. I wasn't worried about it and had he told me yesterday that I wasn't coming back but that he would like me to do the next eight games, nine games, I would've done it."
In fact, the way both the team competed and Ausmus comported himself after those reports came out made a strong impression on the Tigers brass.
"The most important time is, when things are going bad and the s--- hits the fan, let's just say, OK, now let's see what these guys are made of. That's when the real inner person comes out," Avila said. "And he has shown me that he is calm, cool and collected and has continued the course, continued working through all kinds of stupid s--- that's been going out there. And that's what has impressed me. That's impressed me."
Avila said he had full autonomy to make the decision from team owner Mike Ilitch and received his blessing before notifying Ausmus.
"My thing is, I believe Brad has the talent, the know-how, to lead and mentor the young players that are on this team," Avila said. "He also had the respect and the backing of the veteran players on this team. So, that combination to me, tells me that Brad is the right man to lead this team into next year. This team as you've noticed has not given up, they've played hard, they're continuing to try to win every game they can. They've never given up."
In fact, Avila feels like the team's character was revealed in the wake of a frustrating second half.
That said, Avila conceded that there needs to be major improvements heading into next season, namely some offseason upgrades to the team's pitching staff, which has been an Achilles' heel all season.
"We obviously need to add some players now, going into the season. ... We'll figure out where some possible trades could be made, we'll rank all the free-agent guys we may be interested in out there, and we'll try to acquire some of the players that we need additionally to make this team a winning team next year," said Avila, who did note he remains confident in the team's current nucleus.
"Thank goodness, though, we feel like we have a good core of players here that are a mix of some veterans with some nice young players that are up and coming," Avila said. "That core is very important, because you can't create a whole, brand new team. We have the basics, the core players here to start that process of just adding a few more to have a winning team."
Avila said he consulted with several veteran players, as well as fellow members of the baseball operations department, for input before making the decision. Ultimately, he trusted what he saw in Ausmus' improvements since taking over the team in 2013.
"I've been observing Brad for two years, and I can tell you that, yeah, at the very beginning, he was a rookie manager. He is no longer a rookie manager," Avila said. "And I can tell you right now, from first-hand experience, he prepares exhaustively. Nobody's going to prepare more than Brad Ausmus and this staff, because I've seen it."
Ausmus admitted it has been tough, at times, to avoid what was written and circulated in the media about his job status but that his commitment to the job and the team never has wavered.
"I said I would do my job until they ask me to leave or until my contract expired, and that's what we'll continue to do," Ausmus said. "But we do expect things to be better in 2016."