Brad Ausmus’s time as skipper looks to be coming to a close. But that’s not groundbreaking news, after the Detroit Tigers dropped three out of four over the weekend to the far-from-perfect Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox, the same team that dealt left-hander Chris Sale and star outfielder Adam Eaton during the offseason, should not be winning four-game sets against the Tigers.
A rebuilding team, like the White Sox, surely should not have essentially the same record as the Tigers, which the Sox did going into Memorial Day.
Chicago also shouldn’t be hovering near Detroit in the standings when you consider the fact that the Tigers have the fourth-highest payroll in baseball ($201-plus million), while the Pale Hose spend basically half that much ($102-plus million).
But the White Sox do have nearly the same record, and it’s not just because of Ausmus refusing to bat J.D. Martinez in the cleanup spot. It’s also because of general manager Al Avila’s spotty decision-making since taking over the job from now Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski.
Tigers fans can no longer give Avila, the father of Tigers backstop Alex Avila, a pass for the Tigers’ struggles.
It’s time to start making the 58-year-old and the first Cuban-born general manager in MLB history accountable for the decisions he’s made since becoming the front office boss in August of 2015.
He’s had two offseasons to prove his worth, and the results haven’t been ugly.
The spotty decisions started with his first offseason — the offseason after the 2015 campaign, in which the Tigers finished a dismal 74-87.
Avila appealed to former club owner Mike Ilitch, and made use of his checkbook in a big manner.
Avila had Ilitch bankroll expensive free-agent deals for Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, while getting the iconic Detroit businessman to cut smaller checks for Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe, Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
And what did the six of them amount to in 2016? The simple answer is not much.
Now, if you want to take a more analytical approach to finding out what they collectively produced, just take a look at the combined wins above replacement put up by the signees.
Using WAR collected from Baseball-Reference.com, you’ll find that the six of them amounted to a WAR of -0.3 in ‘16.
In essence, the Tigers could’ve plucked six minor leaguers out of Triple-A Toledo, and gotten better production out of them.
Of those six names, only Upton and Zimmermann remain on the ballclub, which further accentuates the point that Avila failed on the free-agent market in his first go-around.
And through 52 games this season, the combination of “J-Up” and “J-Zimm” haven’t absolutely lit the world on fire, with a combined WAR of 0.9. To be fair, the sub-1.0 WAR is largely due to the horrid start that Zimmermann has had to the season.
Through 10 outings, he’s amassed a 6.61 fielding independent pitching mark and a WAR of -0.8.
He possesses the same WAR as the recently demoted Anibal Sanchez, as well as less WAR than names such as Buck Farmer, who has made one start this season, and relievers Chad Bell, recently demoted to Triple-A, and reliever Shane Greene.
By the way, due to J-Zimm and Sanchez sharing the same WAR, it means that two of the three highest-paid Tigers pitchers are at the very bottom of the club’s roster in WAR. Only 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander has a higher annual salary ($28M in 2017).
That’s far from a recipe for success.
Avila fared better after the ‘15 campaign concluded. Most notably, he landed last year’s closer Francisco Rodriguez, who saved 44 games, along with last year’s starting center fielder Cameron Maybin and lefty reliever Justin Wilson.
They combined for 3.5 wins above replacement in ‘16. All in all, that served as a win for Avila.
However, Avila dealt Maybin this past offseason to the L.A. Angels for a less-than-appetizing return.
All the Tigers got was right-handed arm Victor Alcantara, who went 3-7 with a 4.30 ERA in 29 appearances for the Halos’ Double-A affiliate last season.
To many Tigers fans and pundits alike, it signified a pure salary dump. And it’s led to a gaping hole in center field this season.
The four guys that have played at least five games in center this season — offseason acquisition Mikie Mahtook, Andrew Romine, JaCoby Jones and the recently designated for assignment Tyler Collins — have combined to produce a WAR of zero.
In contrast, Maybin has produced a WAR of 1.4 in 43 games for the Halos this season. In so many words, the Maybin trade is a deal that Avila should already regret, and probably does.
Of the other two major players he acquired via trade before the ’16 campaign, only Wilson, the present Detroit closer, has been worth something of value, with a 0.4 WAR.
As for K-Rod, he’s been an absolute disaster in 2017. He was removed from the closer role after blowing four saves in 11 tries, including two straight blown saves against the Oakland A’s May 6 and 7. And through 18 appearances, his earned run average stands at 7.16.
Whenever he gets the ball from Ausmus, it draws the ire of the Detroit faithful.
When you look at K-Rod’s numbers, you realize that the phrase “misery loves company” applies perfectly to him and to two other Detroit “fan favorites:” Sanchez and Zimmermann. They all possess a WAR of -0.8, and make a combined $40.8 million, which is more than half of the $76-plus million that Detroit has invested in its 2017 pitching staff.
That’s a sad state of affairs, and an indictment of Avila and his tenure as Detroit GM, despite Sanchez being a holdover from Dave D’s time in Motown.
At this point, arguably Avila’s best move as head honcho was to reacquire his son Alex to be James McCann’s backup.
The 30-year-old Avila has turned out to be better than what the Tigers could’ve ever expected when they inked him to a one-year, $2 million deal this past offseason. Based on WAR, he’s been the third-best player on the club, and he’s produced an OPS above 1.000 (1.077 through 32 games).
Despite Avila’s surprise All-Star caliber production, his father should start to receive some serious blame for the uncertain future that the Tigers face.
There’s no getting around the fact that the elder Avila, despite his predecessor’s involvement, helped construct this flawed version of the Tigers.
If the “ship” Detroit is sailing this season goes down, Ausmus might not be the only person that goes down with it.