Tigers Are In The Depths: Real Change Needed

On Wednesday, June 15, the Detroit Tigers were pummeled by the Chicago White Sox, 13-0.

Or if you prefer, here are more words to describe the defeat in 95 degree heat at Comerica Park:

  • Thumped
  • Pounded
  • Battered
  • Hammered
  • Thrashed

Or here’s one you’ll recognize: embarrassed.

In the 13-0 loss, manager A.J. Hinch summoned three position players to pitch the final three innings. According to the Detroit Tigers press box, there were 20,726 fans in attendance. Each of those people should demand their money back.

The Tigers are embarrassing. And folks, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

But before positive change can happen, changes have to be made. Wholesale changes. This isn’t “add a porch off the side of the house” rebuilding. This is “tear the walls out and get down to the foundation” rebuilding. Maybe even sell the land type stuff.

Why the Tigers Are Terrible

Al Avila is a nice man. His long career in baseball is inspirational, and he’s a qualified and talented front office employee.

But he’s in over his head as a general manager.

Avila has failed to set the foundation for a revival of the franchise after taking over from mentor Dave Dombrowski, who led the Tigers through unprecedented times of success.

Al has not established a good scouting department. He was very late at implementing a sophisticated analytics department. Most troubling: Avila has shown poor judgment.

Most of his personnel decisions have been abysmal:

  • Jordan Zimmerman was paid $110 million and went 25-41 with a 5.63 ERA in a little over 500 innings. The free agent was so bad that Avila released him and paid him $25 million to not pitch his final season for the team.
  • Mike Pelfrey was paid $2 million per win ($8 million total) in his one season with Avila’s Tigers.
  • Avila traded Drew Smith to the Rays before the 2017 season and got Mikie Mahtook in return. Smith is a very effective reliever for the Mets, and has been for a few years. The immortal Mikie Mahtook played parts of three seasons in Detroit and never made anyone think he was an actual baseball player.
  • In July of 2017, Avila traded J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for three prospects. Five years later J.D. is still one of the best designated hitters in baseball, and the three players Detroit got have a combined -1.6 Wins Above Replacement, and none belong to the Tigers.
  • Also in 2017, Avila dealt his son Alex and pitcher Justin Wilson to the Cubs for Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. Today, Candelario is one of the worst-hitting regulars in baseball, and he’s shown little improvement at handling the strike zone. The Tigers gave up on Paredes and dealt him to Tampa this spring for Austin Meadows. In 25 games for the Rays, Paredes has five home runs, which would tie him for the team lead if he was in Detroit.
  • Continuing his dump of any talent on the roster, Avila dealt Justin Verlander to the Astros at the deadline in 2017, for three prospects. The top prospect was supposed to be Franklin Perez, a hard-throwing Venezuelan pitcher. But Perez never materialized, and last season he was released, only to re-sign with Detroit on a minor league contract. His future is very uncertain, and he’s still never thrown a pitch in the major leagues. Daz Cameron is the only player the Tigers got in the trade to have any extensive playing time in Detroit. Meanwhile, since leaving the Tigers, Verlander has won another Cy Young Award, pitched a third no-hitter, and is leading MLB in wins in 2022.
  • Avila also miscalculated the value of Mike Fiers when he dealt the pitcher to Oakland. He signed Jonathan Schoop as a free agent before the 2020 season, and will have paid the infielder nearly $19 million through 2022. What has Detroit received in return? Schoop has a 715 OPS as a Tiger, and his one asset (power) is negated by the large outfield at Comerica. He’s hitting .189 with a dreadful .226 OBP this season.
  • For some reason, Avila determined that 29-year old Eduardo Rodriguez was worth $77 million and a five-year contract. Despite the fact the Tigers have many decent arms in the pipeline, Avila felt a veteran was needed. But Rodriguez has had just one good season in his MLB career. Otherwise he’s been little more than a mediocre 4-inning starter. Predictably, he’s been mediocre. Following an arm injury, he made on rehab start, but now has asked to be placed on voluntary leave. His status on ever pitching again is uncertain.

Finally, let’s talk about Javier Báez, who was signed this past off-season for $140 million through 2027. Báez is a fundamentally flawed player, a one-dimensional batter, and does not possess the maturity to be a team leader.

Currently, Báez is on pace for 160 strikeouts and 27 walks. He’s batting .188 with six errors. While once a week or so he will make a flashy play with his glove, he usually makes two bonehead plays each week. He’s been “hurt” already this season, and has been dropped in the lineup by his manager because he can’t put the ball in play or hit it with any authority. He is on pace for nine home runs and about 45 RBI.

How did Al Avila think Javier Báez was the type of player you can build a team around? How did he think the flawed Báez (even at his best) was the kind of ballplayer who could transform a franchise, elevate it to postseason contender status?

I wrote here (and elsewhere), as did others, that Báez was a risk not worth taking. At 29 and soon-to-be 30, Báez is what he is. The Tigers are paying him $140 million and he’s already had his best season, his second best, and maybe every good season he’s ever going to have.

Meanwhile, the division rival Twins signed free agent shortstop Carlos Correa to a player-friendly one-year deal at $35 million, with options that could make his contract worth $106 million, or $34 million less than Detroit guaranteed Báez.

Avila should have been fired for the failure to sign Correa (who is almost three years younger and far better than Báez).

How to fix the Tigers

The Tigers are failing because they think imitation works. The franchise decided in 2016-17 to copy the tactics of the Cubs and Astros that led to those teams finding success. But just imitating a strategy doesn’t guarantee success.

Just because you get in line first at the farmers market, buy your ingredients, and take them back to the kitchen, that doesn’t mean the meal will be amazing. Because if your cook is mediocre, so too will be the food.

Al Avila isn’t Theo Epstein, who built the Cubs into a world championship team. And he doesn’t have the front office genius that Houston had to build their organization into a dynasty.

Avila is a good soldier, but he’s no general.

The Tigers are trying to “rebuild” their way to relevance with a bad front office, a defective strategy, and frankly, with an owner who doesn’t have the desire to build greatness.

Chris Ilitch is not Mike Ilitch. Chris is an empire-maintainer. His father was an empire builder. Mike was ruthless in pursuing a desire to be dominant. Chris wants to steadily manage growth. Mike was about dreams and risks and reaching for the top. Chris is about making the board of directors happy and securing profits.

The Tigers have the wrong general manager. They have a deficient organization because of that, and a bad roster because of that too. They have an owner who would rather brand everything Ilitch and grow the bottom line than develop a winning organization.

The players aren’t at fault. The expectations were too high for this mashup of talent, and the man who orchestrated it needs to go. His boss, the guy who writes the checks, he probably won’t go anywhere, but if we want a winning baseball team in the Motor City again, we either need a Mike Ilitch clone or this generation of the family needs to sell.

6 replies on “Tigers Are In The Depths: Real Change Needed

  • Bobby DePew

    Agree! Especially with the first half of this column …. Please (!) keep supplying these FACTS about Mr Avila’s track record. You have a platform & you (presumably) have contacts. Please keep-on sounding this alarm 🚨about Avila…. Thanks.

    Reply
  • David Flores

    I’ve thought for a long time now when Avila replaced Dombrowski he was a poor choice. I give him credit that he has built up the farm system after it was gutted by the former GM. Although when your always the last place team how hard is it to draft players like Tork and Green. His trades have been pathetic. I wish we had Tampa’s GM our Houston.

    Reply
  • Chris Guyor

    I will politely disagree with a lot of what you have said. You skip over and omit a lot of details in your criticism of Avila. You don’t discuss the many albatrosses Avila was left to deal with after Dombrowski was let go… including inheriting a lot of bad contracts. You omit his skillful drafting… Greene, Torkelson, Clemens and Skubal … and the luring of a quality manager, AJ Hinch, to Detroit. And look at the depth he’s built in the minors, with pitchers like Faedo and Brieske doing well after being pressed into action. I agree he hasn’t been perfect, but remember this is a mid-market franchise that spent like a big market franchise under Mr I and Dombrowski. I think he’s been patient and some well assembling a solid young core.

    Reply
    • Tom Sawyer

      What is his win loss record and had it improved in Avila’s tenure here. Losing and bad trades are enough to fire him for.

      Reply
  • John David Danielewicz

    Hey Dan: I have to agree with Chris. To paraphrase June Cleaver: “You were a little hard on Trader Al, Dan”. I heard Prince Fielder and Jordan Zimmerman were all Mike Ilitch’s ideas and Dumbo had an unlimited budget, unlike what Chris I. has given AA. Agree however that Baez was not what a team with an already terrible strikeout rate needed and he has a shotgun (not a rifle) for a throwing arm. Correa would have been a better fit and you would have thought A. J. would have been able to convince him to come to Detroit. And who could have predicted the Riley Greene injury and the injuries to virtually our complete starting rotation plus Funkhouser and Cisnero. Cut AA a little slack for this season.

    Reply

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