Detroit — It never was going to be easy, and it never was going to be quick.
But what exactly is an acceptable period of time to rebuild the Tigers, particularly when you look around the game and see other rebuilds coming to fruition, from Chicago to San Diego, and elsewhere in between? That’s the question when considering the merits of general manager Al Avila, who was promoted as Dave Dombrowski’s successor in August 2015, seeing this through to the finish line.
The easiest comparison is to look at Dombrowski’s situation when he took over in the fall of 2001, but that’s also the laziest. The Dombrowski rebuild didn’t begin in earnest until the winter of 2003-04. He had the Tigers in the World Series three years after they lost an American League-record 119 games.
But Dombrowski’s situation and Avila’s are not equal, not even close. Dombrowski was given essentially a blank check starting in February 2004, when he signed Pudge Rodriguez. He signed Magglio Ordonez the following winter. In between, Dombrowski drafted Justin Verlander. He later signed Prince Fielder. The list goes on and on. Dombrowski got to spend at will, with no worries that the ballclub was losing tens of millions a year.
Avila has been given a big budget just once, in his first year on the job. Mike Ilitch decided — after letting Dombrowski sell off big-time pieces just before he was fired — to take one more shot at a winner. What Avila did with all that money, signing Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, can be rightly criticized, especially Zimmermann.
That 2016 season was the Tigers’ last winning campaign, and the last time they spent big. Ilitch died in February 2017, and his son, Christopher, took the reins. He ordered a real rebuild — which was obviously the right call — ideally to be built on shrewd trades, player development and finally, when the time is right, being a player in free agency.
The real teardown began in the summer of 2017, when the Tigers traded Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Upton, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila. Four years later, only one of those trades has yielded a legitimate major-league player. Trades of Ian Kinsler, Mike Fiers and Nick Castellanos haven’t brought help yet.
The lackluster returns have irked Tigers fans, who got used to Dombrowski robbing one team after another over the years. But Dombrowski acquired major-league stars for prospects, most of whom never panned out elsewhere. Avila was charged with doing the reverse, acquiring prospects for stars, during a time when most organizations have become increasingly reluctant to sell the farm for a quick fix.
If there’s a blemish on Avila’s resume, that’s been it — the trade returns. It’s somewhat surprising, given his track record as an excellent talent evaluator for all those years as Dombrowski’s top lieutenant (with the Marlins, then with the Tigers). Before sun-up at a hotel suite in Nashville, Tennessee, in December 2007, it was Avila who took down the Marlins’ prospect requests for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis — Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and many others. He instantly knew it was a go. He also orchestrated many of other big trades for whom Dombrowski got the credit. He brought J.D. Martinez, an Astros castoff before the Astros were the Astros, to Detroit in the first place.
The draft, likewise, has yielded subpar results, at least so far. The MLB Draft is always a crap shoot, and it takes several years to properly analyze a single draft class. So the jury’s still out. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and Matt Manning could soon change the narrative.
As for free-agent signings, outside of the first year, it’s tough to be too critical of Avila. There were a couple we-saw-that-coming flops (Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe). But that hasn’t cost the Tigers much, given Christopher Ilitch hasn’t given Avila much money to work with. On Opening Day 2015, the Tigers had a payroll of $173 million, the fourth-highest in baseball. In 2021, it was $80 million, 23rd in MLB.
The Tigers only have one player signed beyond 2021, albeit a big one, Cabrera. He’s owed $32 million in 2022 and $32 million more in 2023 before some vesting options for 2024 and 2025 that he’s very unlikely to hit.
Ilitch has promised Tigers fans he would spend when the time is right. But conveniently, there’s been no timetable on that, even though he told reporters this spring the team has a “win-now” mentality. Avila, sitting down with The News this week, said he didn’t have a time frame when the rebuild began — the popular five-year plan, often the default narrative for all rebuilding sports teams, was always optimistic here. Nor does he want to get specific now, when it comes to contending again, as the Tigers did from 2006-2014, in arguably the greatest sustained run of Detroit baseball ever.
But the pressure to perform, particularly for young players looking to carve out a cornerstone for the future, is there now, Avila said.
“We’re still working our asses off,” he said. “There’s pressure to push.
“We’re working fast.”
But fast enough? To some, fans and experts alike, this past offseason figured to be a good time to start spending. It usually takes more than one winter of considerable free-agent additions before a team can contend, no matter how great the home-grown talent. But with the team’s finances taking a hit in 2020 because of COVID-19 (which also canceled the minor-league season, setting the Tigers’ top prospects’ development back considerably), Ilitch opted to pass once more. He can’t do that again following this season, not when the team made assurances to arguably the best manager in the game, AJ Hinch, that the ballclub would give him the players to compete and win.
Again, Avila wouldn’t get specific on the team’s future in free agency, but he suggested what Ilitch has suggested, that the the time is coming. The time for that will most likely be when the team gets its pitching foundation, particularly starting pitching, in place. That could be by the end of 2021, especially if all goes well with Mize, Skubal, Matt Manning, Spencer Turnbull and others.
Should Avila stay or go? McCosky and Henning discuss the Tigers’ rebuild under Al Avila
Should Al Avila stay as Tigers’ GM or go? Chris McCosky and Lynn Henning break down the job he’s done and the team’s options on and off the field.
The Detroit News
Ilitch has repeatedly said, for years, that he continues to have plenty of faith in Avila, who does deserve credit for beefing up the ballclub’s previously non-existent analytics department. That department finally was fully staffed in 2018, and Ilitch gave Avila, 62, an extension in 2019, a year before the original contract was to expire.
That bought Avila, currently the longest-tenured general manager in Detroit professional sports, some more time. But how much more? (The extension terms have never been disclosed.) And is he deserving, given a resume which has included signings and trades involving more than 300 players, more than 160 draft picks and two managerial hires?
Today, The News takes a look back at each of Avila’s transactions as Tigers GM, excluding players who left for free-agency after expired contracts:
Finished 74-87, last in the AL Central
►Aug. 5: Dave Dombrowski fired as general manager, Al Avila hired as general manager — Owner Mike Ilitch, then 86, allowed Dombrowski to sell off some prime pieces, including ace David Price, reliever Joakim Soria and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but had ran out of patience with the front-office chief. He pulled the trigger on the exodus, despite five playoff appearances, including two World Series, in the previous nine years. Ilitch, that same day, turned the keys over to Dombrowski’s long-time lieutenant, Avila, a widely respected talent evaluator who was elevated to the top job for the first time in his long career in professional baseball.
►Aug. 15: Released Mike Belfiore
►Aug. 20: Purchased LHP Randy Wolf from Blue Jays
►Aug. 21: Released Marc Krauss
►Sept. 10: Daniel Fields claimed off waivers by Brewers
►Nov. 9: Guido Knudson claimed off waivers by Pirates
►Nov. 18: Traded Javier Betancourt and Manny Pina to Brewers for Francisco Rodriguez — The rub with Dombrowski was he never could build a quality bullpen, despite all his efforts. So it’s fitting Avila’s first major transaction as GM was trading for one of the era’s great closers, K-Rod. The right-hander had a fine-enough first year, but an awful first half of the second year before he was released.
►Nov. 20: Traded Ian Krol and Gabe Speier to Braves for Cameron Maybin
►Nov. 25: Signed Jake Brigham
►Nov. 30: Signed Jordan Zimmermann — Mike Ilitch took one more shot at a title, giving Avila money to spend. Avila had three options in his price range, including Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, but made Zimmermann a priority his priority. He did so even though there were red flags, like a big drop in strikeouts and a big spike in hits allowed the previous season. The veteran right-hander got a five-year, $110-million deal, took a no-hitter deep into Opening Day, didn’t allow a run in his first three starts and had a 1.50 ERA through seven starts. The rest of his Tigers tenure was a disaster, marred by several injuries, and he retired earlier this week.
►Dec. 2: Signed Thomas Field
►Dec. 3: Signed R.J. Alaniz
►Dec. 6: Signed Mike Pelfrey — An odd move from the get-go, not just the $8-million salary, but also the two-year commitment for a right-hander who never in his previous 10 major-league seasons allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. In 24 appearances (22) starts, he had a 1.731 WHIP, and was released on the eve of Opening Day 2017. He played one more big-league season before retiring.
►Dec. 6: Signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia
►Dec. 8: Signed Mark Lowe — Another bullpen move, another two-year ($11-million) contract for a guy who probably could’ve been had for one. The right-hander was coming off a good season split between the Mariners and Blue Jays, after a couple injury-plagued seasons before that. But he was a disaster in Detroit. He was handed the ball a whopping 54 times, despite a season-ending WHIP of 1.581 and ERA of 7.11. He also was released before Opening Day 2017, and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.
►Dec. 8: Signed Rafael Dolis
►Dec. 8: Signed Preston Guilmet
►Dec. 9: Traded Luis Cessa and Chad Green to Yankees for Justin Wilson — Another move to bolster the Tigers’ bullpen, acquiring the lefty Wilson for two prospects. Wilson was decent his first year in Detroit, and really good his second (0.942 WHIP). That earned him a ticket out of town. Meanwhile, right-handers Cessa and Green have become mainstays in the Yankees’ bullpen (where Wilson has returned to for 2021, too).
►Dec. 11: Signed Drake Britton
►Dec. 11: Signed Lendy Castillo
►Dec. 11: Signed Thad Weber
►Dec. 14: Signed Melvin Mercedes
►Dec. 16: Signed Nate Schierholtz
►Dec. 18: Signed Mike Aviles
►Dec. 18: Signed Dustin Molleken
►Dec. 19: Released Jake Brigham
►Dec. 21: Sold Kyle Lobstein to Pirates
►Dec. 23: Signed Alberto Gonzalez
►Dec. 23: Signed Logan Kensing
►Dec. 23: Signed Jordany Valdespin
►Dec. 30: Signed Michael Crotta
►Dec. 30: Signed Chad Huffman
Finished 86-75, second in the AL Central
►Jan. 4: Signed Rafael Lopez
►Jan. 11: Signed John Maybeer
►Jan. 15: Released Rafael Dolis
►Jan. 20: Signed Justin Upton — The second big move of the offseason for Mike Ilitch and the Tigers, getting the slugging outfielder on a six-year, $132.75 million deal. Upton got off to a super-slow start, with a sub-.700 OPS and sub-.300 OBP through the end of July. He eventually finished strong and put up big-time numbers the second season, posting a total WAR of 6.9 in Detroit, before he was dealt to the Angels in a payroll dump at the 2017 trade deadline.
►Jan. 20: Signed Argeniz Diaz
►Jan. 27: Traded Jefrey Marte to Angels for Kody Evans
►Feb. 6: Signed Luke Carlin
►Feb. 19: Signed Bobby Parnell
►Feb. 23: Signed Casey McGehee
►March 1: Signed Lucas Harrell
►March 22: Released Melvin Mercedes
►March 28: Released Casey McGehee
►March 28: Released Bobby Parnell
►March 29: Traded Bryan Holaday to Rangers for Myles Jaye and Bobby Wilson
►March 30: Signed Casey McGehee
►March 30: Signed Bobby Parnell
►March 31: Released Luke Carlin
►March 31: Released John Mayberry
►April 2: Released Rafael Lopez
►April 19: Signed Humberto Quintero
►April 23: Claimed John Hicks off waivers from Twins
►May 3: Traded Bobby Wilson to Rangers for Chad Bell
►May 6: Released Thomas Field
►May 9: Released Michael Crotta
►May 16: Released Lucas Harrell
►May 18: Released Humberto Quintero
►May 23: Released Nate Schierholtz
►May 27: Released Alberto Gonzalez
►June 7: Sold Jose Valdez to Angels
►June 9-11: Drafted Matt Manning, Kyle Funkhouser, Mark Ecker, Bryan Garcia, Austin Sodders, Jacob Robson, Daniel Pinero, Sam Machonis and Zac Houston in first 10 rounds — Avila’s first draft as the Tigers GM, though the top draft-room guy, David Chadd, was a Dombrowski holdover. This was five years ago, so the Tigers should have seen more than just some good relief from Garcia by now. Manning, a right-hander, holds the key to salvaging this class, and figures to be in Detroit before too long. Sodders, a lefty, and Machonis, an outfielder, aren’t in the organization anymore.
►July 8: Signed David Martinez
►July 9: Signed Alex Presley
►July 28: Released Lendy Castillo
►Aug. 4: Signed Cesar Ramos
►Aug. 9: Claimed Donn Roadh off waivers from Mariners
►Aug. 16: Traded Mike Aviles and Kade Scivicque to Braves for Erick Aybar
►Aug. 17: Signed Pedro Ciriaco
►Aug. 21: Released Bobby Parnell
►Sept. 5: Donn Roach claimed off waivers by A’s
►Oct. 18: Signed Arcenio Leon
►Nov. 3: Traded Cameron Maybin to Angels for Victor Alcantara
►Nov. 8: Joe Mantiply claimed off waivers by Yankees
►Nov. 15: Signed Dustin Molleken
►Nov. 17: Signed William Cuevas
►Nov. 17: Signed Logan Kensing
►Nov. 19: Signed Edward Paredes
►Dec. 8: Edward Paredes claimed by Dodgers in Rule 5 draft
►Dec. 8: Claimed Daniel Stumpf in Rule 5 draft from Royals
►Dec. 9: Signed A.J. Achter
►Dec. 9: Signed Omar Infante
►Dec. 13: Signed Waldis Joaquin
►Dec. 14: Signed Juan Perez
►Dec. 14: Signed Anthony Vasquez
►Dec. 19: Signed Travis Blackley
►Dec. 19: Signed Jake Brigham
►Dec. 19: Signed Brendan Ryan
►Dec. 19: Signed Logan Watkins
►Dec. 19: Signed Thad Weber
►Dec. 23: Signed Alex Avila
Finished 64-98, last in the AL Central
►Jan. 3: Signed Sean Halton
►Jan. 4: Signed Edward Mujica
►Jan. 4: Signed Efren Navaroo
►Jan. 9: Signed David Martinez
►Jan. 10: Signed Brett Pill
►Jan. 10: Signed Alex Presley
►Jan. 18: Traded Drew Smith to rays for Mikie Mahtook
►Feb 8: Signed David Lough
►Feb. 8: Signed Mike Zagurski
►Feb. 20: Signed Daniel Muno
►Feb. 20: Signed Matt Murton
►March 23: Released David Martinez
►March 24: Released Sean Halton
►March 26: Released Mark Lowe
►March 28: Released Daniel Muno
►March 29: Released Travis Blackley
►March 29: Released Thad Weber
►March 30: Released Collin Balester
►March 30: Released Mike Pelfrey
►March 31: Signed Bryan Holaday
►April 12: Signed James Loney
►April 17: Released Matt Murton
►May 3: Released Jake Brigham
►May 7: Released James Loney
►May 17: Releasd David Lough
►May 20: Signed Matt den Dekker
►June 6: Released A.J. Achter
►June 12-14: Drafted Alex Faedo, Rey Rivera, Joey Morgan, Gio Arriera, Sam McMillan, Dane Myers, Brad Bass, Max Green, Luke Burch and Garrett McCain in first 10 rounds — This draft has big-time bust potential. There’s still a fair amount of hope for Faedo, the right-hander, though he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. None have made the major leagues, and Burch and McCain, outfielders, have been released. Besides Faedo, Green, a lefty, might have some big-league possibilities.
►June 15: Released Mike Zagurski
►June 23: Released Francisco Rodriguez
►June 28: Released Dustin Molleken
►July 18: Traded J.D. Martinez to Diamondbacks for Jose King, Sergio Alcantara and Dawel Lugo — More than any transaction Avila has made, this one has been the most-scrutinized, given Martinez’s status as one of the game’s best sluggers, albeit a free agent-to-be at the time. His OPS was over 1.000 when he was dealt, with nearly two weeks to go before the trade deadline — the earliest Avila ever has made a deadline deal, though the market was limited. Martinez’s recent string of lengthy-layoff injuries, plus a wrist injury he was battling at the time of the deal, were turnoffs. Critics like to say Avila panicked and pulled the trigger too soon for the three-infielder package. He settled for that rather than keep Martinez and get a fifth-round draft pick when he walked the following winter. Perhaps he’d reconsider now. Lugo is no longer in the organization, Alcantara was recently DFAd, and King is in low-A ball.
►July 31: Traded Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to Cubs for Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes — Of all the trades Avila has made, this one might have yielded the best returns, landing pretty much the last of the remaining blue-chip Cubs prospects. Pretty odd considering it involved trading his own son, though Wilson was the headliner. Candelario, a third baseman, is coming into his own at the plate and could be the rare position player on the current roster who projects to be a possibility keystone piece when the team contends again. Paredes, another third baseman, is at Triple-A Toledo.
►Aug. 9: Released Juan Perez
►Aug. 14: Released Argenis Diaz
►Aug. 31: Traded Justin Verlander and Juan Ramirez to Astros for Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez and Jake Rogers — If the J.D. Martinez deal was Bust 1A, this one could isn’t far behind. But, again, the market was limited, for numerous reasons. Verlander was 34, and wasn’t the Verlander of 24, at least he wasn’t seen that way by most in the industry. He’d battled multiple injuries in previous years, and still was owed $64 million. Also, if he was going to leave Detroit, he wanted to go to the Yankees, Cubs or Dodgers. The Yankees and Dodgers didn’t want him, and the Cubs couldn’t afford him. The Astros were one team that showed interest prior to the July deadline, but talks stalled. The Astros, at the direction of ownership, circled back in the waning hours before the August deadline, Verlander finally signed off and a deal got done even though Houston desperately wanted to keep Perez. Perez, the young right-hander, dealt with so many injuries the Tigers released him this week (then re-signed him to a minor-league deal). Cameron, an outfielder Houston liked so much it gave him a $4-million bonus as the 37th pick in 2015, is out with an arm injury, and will have to make the most of his opportunity, perhaps in Detroit, later this year. Rogers, a catcher, is with the Tigers, but only out of necessity (i.e. injuries). He’s an excellent defender, but he may never hit.
►Aug. 31: Traded Justin Upton to Angels for Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez — The Tigers wasted little time getting out of this deal, and only had to pay $1 million of Upton’s salary with the Angels picking up the rest, including the $88 million for the last four years (they even extended him). This was a pure salary dump. The Tigers were taking their shot at contending when they signed him, but the situation reversed within a year-and-a-half. So any return here would be gravy. Long already has retired, but Rodriguez, another right-hander, shined in A ball, and has a 0.00 ERA at Double-A Erie this year, with five innings of perfection his last time out.
►Sept. 11: Released Arcenio Leon
►Sept. 22: Decided not to retain Brad Ausmus as manager — He was a popular pick when the Tigers hired him, despite no coaching or managerial experience outside of a brief stint managing Team Israel for the World Baseball Classic. But he quickly had lots of critics, especially after the Tigers, with a rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price, were swept in three games by the Orioles in the 2014 playoffs. In a little less than four full seasons, he was 314-332.
►Oct. 5: Released Brett Pill
►Oct. 20: Hired Ron Gardenhire as manager — In picking Ausmus’ successor, the Tigers couldn’t have found a more-different choice than Gardenhire. The old-school manager had lots of success, at least in the regular season, with the Twins. But this always had the feel of a place-holder hire. Gardenhire got one more good-paying gig before retirement, charged with keeping the ship afloat amid some rocky waters.
►Nov. 2: Andrew Romine claimed off waivers by Mariners
►Nov. 14: Signed Niko Goodrum — Barely worth a newspaper paragraph when this move happened, Goodrum, drafted by the Twins, has proved to be one of Avila’s gems as a positive-WAR player since arriving in Detroit. He plays short well enough and is serviceable all over the diamond, and has pop, with 16 homers his first Tigers season.
►Nov. 20: Signed Ryan Carpenter
►Nov. 25: Signed Chad Huffman
►Dec. 5: Signed Jim Adduci
►Dec. 5: Signed Enrique Burgos
►Dec. 5: Signed Leonys Martin
►Dec. 5: Signed Derek Norris — This move might’ve been among Avila’s worst, and not because Norris wasn’t a legitimate big-league player. The veteran catcher had been suspended the final month of the 2017 season after allegations of domestic abuse. Avila said at the time, “We know this kid. It’s not his character.” It was a headache that wasn’t worth it, especially when the Tigers cut him in March 2018, before he ever played a game in the organization.
►Dec. 8: Signed Mike Fiers — Perhaps Avila learned his lesson on the two-year deals. He got Fiers, a veteran right-hander, on a one-year, $6-million pact. And for the first three months of the season, he was a solid middle- to back-of-the-rotation member who netted a couple of prospects in a summer deal with the A’s.
►Dec. 13: Traded Ian Kinsler to Angels for Wilkel Hernandez and Troy Montgomery — Tigers fans love to bemoan the brief Prince Fielder era in Detroit (mostly because, “I’ve got kids”). Often overlooked is it did net four pretty-darn productive seasons from the veteran second baseman. The Tigers hope they will someday say the same about Hernandez, a right-hander, and Montgomery, an outfielder, who’s in A-ball.
►Dec. 14: Claimed Victor Reyes from Diamondbacks in Rule 5 draft — So far, Avila’s hit more in the Rule 5 draft than the MLB Draft, though that’s not saying much. Reyes had a predictably rough go of it his first year in Detroit (Rule 5 picks must stay on the major-league roster all year, or be returned). He managed a plus-.700 OPS the next two seasons. Fans wonder why the outfielder doesn’t hit for more power, though, given his big frame (6-foot-5, 200 pounds).
►Dec. 14: Locke St. John claimed by Rangers in Rule 5 draft
►Dec. 18: Signed Ronny Rodriguez
Finished 64-98, third in the AL Central
►Jan. 9: Signed Phillippe Aumont
►Jan. 9: Signed Pete Kozma
►Jan. 9: Signed Brayan Pena
►Jan. 11: Claimed Johnny Barbato off waivers from Pirates
►Jan. 24: Signed Alexi Amarista
►Jan. 24: Signed James Russell
►Jan. 24: Signed Caleb Thielbar
►Jan. 24: Signed Matt West
►Jan. 29: Signed Travis Wood
►Feb. 23: Signed Louis Coleman
►Feb. 23: Signed Francisco Liriano
►March 2: Jairo Labourt claimed off waivers by Reds
►March 8: Released Travis Wood
►March 9: Signed Donovan Hand
►March 9: Signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia
►March 24: Released Alexi Amarista
►March 28: Signed Jairo Labourt
►March 28: Released Enrique Burgos
►March 28: Released Derek Norris
►May 8: Released James Russell
►May 15: Chad Bell claimed off waivers by Braves
►May 20: Released Jairo Labourt
►May 22: Signed Kevin Chapman
►June 3: Signed Junichi Tazawa
►June 5: Signed Hunter Cervenka
►June 6: Signed Jacob Turner
►June 11: Released Brayan Pena
►June 14-16: Drafted Casey Mize, Parker Meadows, Kody Clemens, Kingston Liniak, Adam Wolf, Hugh Smith, Eric De La Rosa, Jeremiah Burks, Tarik Skubal, Brock Deatherage and Kacey Murphy in first 10 rounds — If the Tigers do manage to turn things around in the next couple years, it’ll likely because of this draft. They took Auburn right-hander Mize 1-1, and then Seattle lefty Skubal in the ninth round. Mize is getting the fans’ attention this year, and Skubal got it last year. Clemens, a second baseman out of Texas with a famous father, could prove a bargain in the third round, too. Deatherage, an outfielder, and Murphy, a left-hander, already have retired.
►June 22: Signed Josh Thole
►July 9: Released Junichi Tazawa
►July 28: Claimed Josh Smoker off waivers from Pirates
►July 31: Traded Kyle Dowdy and Leonys Martin to Indians for Willi Castro — The Tigers might’ve gotten a remarkably good return for Martin, the veteran and journeyman outfielder, and from a division rival, no less. Castro, a shortstop by trade who’s also getting some looks at second this season, had long been of interest to the Tigers, and he had a fantastic 2020, with a .932 OPS, albeit in a shortened season. Things have gotten tougher in 2021, but the potential’s clearly still there.
►Aug. 6: Traded Mike Fiers to A’s for Nolan Blackwood and Logan Shore — The verdict’s still out on this one. But we should have a pretty good idea soon just what the Tigers got in return for the veteran right-hander. Blackwood, a right-handed reliever, and Shore, a right-handed starter, both are getting their first taste of Triple-A Toledo and if things go even mildly well, they could see Detroit at some point in 2021.
►Aug. 9: Purchased Nick Tepesch from Blue Jays
►Aug. 10: Signed Zach McAllister
►Aug. 21: Released Zach McAllister
►Aug. 27: Released Nick Tepesch
►Sept. 6: Released Josh Smoker
►Sept. 6: Claimed Dustin Peterson off waivers from Braves
►Oct. 24: Artie Lewicki claimed off waivers from Diamondbacks
►Nov. 2: Claimed Brandon Dixon off waivers from Reds
►Nov. 2: Claimed Jose Fernandez off waivers from Blue Jays
►Nov. 9: Signed Jose Cisnero — Folks around here probably don’t know he made his major-league debut way back in 2014. He didn’t pitch for an MLB-affiliated organization in 2016 or 2017, so the signing didn’t register with fans when the Tigers plucked him. He’s got a dynamic arsenal, with a high-90s fastball, and was quite good in 2020. But the right-hander has struggled through his first 16 appearances of 2021.
►Nov. 9: Signed Pete Kozma
►Dec. 4: Signed Matt Moore
►Dec. 5: Signed Louis Coleman
►Dec. 5: Signed Bobby Wilson
►Dec. 10: Signed Tyson Ross
►Dec. 10: Mike Gerber claimed off waivers by Giants
►Dec. 13: Claimed Reed Garrett from Rangers in Rule 5 draft
►Dec. 14: Signed Jordy Mercer
►Dec. 18: Signed Nick Ramirez
►Dec. 19: Signed Eduardo Paredes
►Dec. 19: Signed Chris Smith
Finished 47-114, last in the AL Central
►Jan. 21: Signed Gordon Beckham
►Jan. 21: Signed Hector Sanchez
►Jan. 24: Claimed Kaleb Cowart off waivers from Mariners
►Feb. 23: Signed Josh Harrison
►Feb. 23: Kaleb Cowart claimed off waivers by Angels
►March 5: Signed Chris Smith
►March 9: Purchased Cameron Rupp from Giants
►March 12: Signed Taylor Motter
►March 28: Released Louis Coleman
►April 24: Released Eduardo Paredes
►May 11: Purchased Tim Adleman from Long Island of Atlantic League
►May 13: Released Cameron Rupp
►May 14: Released Taylor Motter
►May 20: Returned Reed Garrett to Rangers from Rule 5 draft
►May 26: Claimed Austin Adams off waivers from Twins
►May 28: Signed Carlos Torres
►June 1: Signed Frank Schwindel
►June 3-5: Drafted Riley Greene, Nick Quintana, Andre Lipcius, Ryan Kreidler, Bryant Packard, Cooper Johnson, Zack Hess, Jack Kenley, Austin Bergner and Jake Holton in first 10 rounds — The jury’s still out on this class, given they played limited games in 2019 after being drafted, then lost all of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Tigers believe they hit the jackpot with their first pick. Greene, a high school outfielder, might just be the first of these prospects to crack the major leagues. He’s impressed in two spring trainings, and feels right at home now at Double-A Erie.
►June 29: Signed Trevor Rosenthal
►July 5: Extended contract of Al Avila — This wasn’t an Avila move, of course, but rather a Christopher Ilitch decision. Yet, it was wildly bizarre in its execution. The extension was hastily announced before a Friday night game against the Red Sox at Comerica Park (the Tigers lost to fall to 28-54). Ilitch didn’t even bother to show up to the news conference, leaving Avila, in an odd scene, to announce his own extension. Avila had one year left on his original deal given to him by the late Mike Ilitch. The team didn’t say how many years this extension covered, confirming only a “multi-year” deal.
►July 21: Signed Edwin Jackson
►June 25: Signed Jake Thompson
►July 31: Traded Nick Castellanos to Cubs for Alex Lange and Paul Richan — One of the few impact hitters the Tigers have developed the past 15 years (Curtis Granderson also comes to mind), this was the last of the big selloffs from the Detroit teams that were contenders. Castellanos, a free agent-to-be, was somewhat underappreciated in Detroit (he had an .831 OPS the three years prior), and became a hero in the Cubs’ playoff drive. He now is a fan favorite with the Reds. Lange, a right-hander, is getting a look in Detroit this season, and Richan, another right-hander, is at Double-A Erie and could pitch in Detroit at some point in 2021.
►July 31: Traded Shane Greene to Braves for Travis Demeritte and Joey Wentz — The Tigers might’ve gotten a haul for Greene, a solid right-handed reliever in four-plus seasons with Detroit. But that all hinges on Wentz, a left-hander with more strikeouts than innings pitched in the minor leagues and a top-10 prospect in the system. He had Tommy John surgery early in 2020. Wentz returned to the practice fields in TigerTown last month, and the hope is to get him to the big leagues in September. Demeritte was a throw-in, the so-called 4A outfielder — too good for the minors, not good enough for the majors. He’s now back in the Braves system.
►Aug. 6: Claimed David McKay off waivers from Mariners
►Aug. 9: Released Sandy Baez
►Aug. 9: Released Josh Harrison
►Aug. 11: Signed Sandy Baez
►Aug. 24: Signed Matt Wotherspoon
►Aug. 31: Sold Caleb Thielbar to Braves
►Sept. 3: Released Ryan Carpenter
►Nov. 5: Signed Tim Adleman
►Nov. 25: Purchased Dario Agrazal from Pirates
►Nov. 25: Released Drew VerHagen
►Dec. 6: Signed Jorge Bonifacio
►Dec. 9: Ronny Rodriguez claimed off waivers by Brewers
►Dec. 12: Claimed Rony Gorcia from Yankees in Rule 5 draft
►Dec. 13: Signed Austin Romine — The Tigers used to go the winter meetings and land big fish after big fish (Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Yoenis Cespedes). But in 2019, it was just Romine, a fine-enough catcher, on a one-year, $4.1-million deal. His OPS fell by more than 160 points, to .582 from the year before, in 37 games of a shortened season. And the Tigers’ never-ending search for a catcher continued.
►Dec. 19: Signed Zack Godley
►Dec. 21: Signed C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop — We lump these together, because they signed on the same day, to matching $6.1 million, one-year contracts. They weren’t big splashes, but were solid signings for a team coming off a 114-loss season. They both had good seasons, albeit in injury-shortened years. Cron, a first baseman, played only 13 games before needed knee surgery. Schoop, a second baseman, played 44 games before a wrist injury ended his season.
Finished 23-35, last in the AL Central
►Jan. 4: Signed Alex Wilson
►Jan. 8: Purchased Eric Haase from Indians
►Jan. 13: Signed Ivan Nova
►Jan. 17: Traded Matt Hall to Red Sox for Jhon Nunez
►Jan. 21: Signed Hector Santiago
►Jan. 30: Signed Jordy Mercer
►Jan. 31: Signed Kennys Vargas
►Feb. 5: Signed Chris Smith
►Feb. 12: Signed Cameron Maybin
►June 10-11: Drafted Spencer Torkelson, Dillon Dingler, Daniel Cabrera, Trei Cruz, Gage Workman and Colt Keith — The 2020 Major League Draft was cut to five rounds because of the pandemic. But the Tigers still might’ve made out with a second 1-1 pick in three years. They took the consensus No. 1 pick, Torkelson, a slugging corner infielder out of Arizona State. He’s off to a very slow start, including a rocky spring and some early struggles at Single-A West Michigan. It’s silly to get overly worked up about that. He could be in Detroit early in 2022. The Tigers finally might’ve found their future catcher, too, with Dingler, out of Ohio State, who’s also at West Michigan.
►June 25: Released Alex Smith
►July 3: Released Chris Smith
►July 6: Released Kennys Vargas
►July 13: Released Zack Godley
►July 21: Released Hector Santiago
►July 25: Claimed Carson Fulmer off waivers from White Sox
►Aug. 6: Released Jordy Mercer
►Aug. 24: Carson Fulmer claimed off waivers by Pirates
►Aug. 31: Traded Cameron Maybin to Cubs for Zack Short — This marked the third time the Tigers have traded Maybin, an outfielder, who, remember, was part of the Miguel Cabrera trade all those years ago. Short is no Cabrera, but he’s got a chance to be part of the team’s brighter days ahead. As a shortstop, third baseman and second baseman, he’s got a good glove. He can swing the stick with pop and steal some bases. Short got his first of many looks from Detroit earlier this season, and could eventually be one of those impact utility players AJ Hinch values so much.
►Aug. 31: Claimed Dereck Rodriguez off waivers from Giants
►Sept. 19: Ron Gardenhire retired as manager — This wasn’t surprising. Gardenhire always was seen as a “babysitter” hire, on the job until the Tigers were poised to start competing. He was in the final year of his contract, he was 62, and he’s battled cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Because of the health, 2020 was extra-stressful, given all the COVID-19 concern. It was time to go. So in September, he made it easy on Avila, and went to the GM and said he was done. Lloyd McClendon took over as interim manager, and the Tigers went looking for their third post-Jim Leyland manager.
►Oct. 30: Hired AJ Hinch as manager — He was the obvious No. 1 choice from the get-go, even if he carried baggage from his one-year suspension in the wake of the Astros’ cheating scandal. But that wasn’t the Tigers’ baggage. They needed to get the best manager to carry the rebuild through, and that clearly was Hinch. He won one World Series and lost another in Houston. The White Sox did the Tigers a big favor hiring Tony La Russa, paving the way for Hinch. It might be Avila’s best move as general manager, but it’s only a good move if the team gives him the pieces to win. And that, in large part, will fall on Chris Ilitch’s shoulders.
►Nov. 19: Released Brandon Dixon
►Dec. 7: Anthony Castros claimed off waivers by Blue Jays
►Dec. 10: Claimed Akil Baddoo from Twins in Rule 5 draft — All Rule 5 picks are risky and time-consuming, given the player must spend the entire season on the MLB roster or returned to their original team. Baddoo, an outfielder, was an even bigger long shot, given he’d never played above A-ball, and had Tommy John surgery in 2019. But he dazzled in spring training, and then had a historic start to his major-league career, carrying a 1.000-plus OPS through his first 15 games. He’s cooled some, but he’s not another Chris Shelton. Even when Baddoo’s not hitting, he can provide value with defense and base-running abilities.
►Dec. 10: Will Vest claimed by Mariners in Rule 5 draft
►Dec. 12: Signed Ian Krol
►Dec. 23: Signed Dustin Garneau
►Dec. 23: Signed Jose Urena — Avila’s track record of signing veteran pitchers coming off down seasons has not been good. But perhaps he found something in Urena, a right-hander, on a one-year, $3.25-million contract. He was pretty good with the Marlins in 2017-18, then pretty bad the last two seasons. Urena has only allowed more than two earned runs in one of his seven starts with Detroit, and that was the first start.
►Dec. 29: Signed Locke St. John
13-24 (through Thursday), fourth in the AL Central
►Jan. 5: Signed Robbie Grossman — This could’ve been the offseason for the Tigers to start spending. Christopher Ilitch didn’t sign off on that plan. So Avila had to go shopping for more bargains. He might’ve found a good one in Grossman, the veteran outfielder, who had nine walks through his first five games of the season and still is carrying a hefty .377 OBP. He’s a professional hitter in a lineup that really lacks them.
►Jan. 7: Signed Miguel Del Pozo
►Jan. 16: Signed Andrew Moore
►Jan. 16: Signed Robbie Ross
►Jan. 19: Signed Erasmo Ramirez
►Jan. 25: Signed Derek Holland
►Jan. 29: Signed Wilson Ramos — Another catcher signing, as the Tigers continue to struggle to develop one in the minor leagues. This one’s worked out pretty well, even with Ramos on the injured list with a lumbar spine strain. It’s pretty remarkable they got him for just $2 million on a one-year deal. He promised if he got to play daily, he’d hit, and he has, with six homers out of the gate.
►Feb. 5: Signed Jonathan Schoop — After exploring his options, and after the Tigers’ explored theirs, they had a reunion on an even-cheaper deal, at $4.5 million for one year. The veteran second baseman has also gotten some work at first base, and looks pretty good over there. He doesn’t look good at all at the plate. His OPS is down more than 270 points from last year, though he is coming off a three-hit game.
►Feb. 5: Sergio Alcantara claimed off waivers by Cubs
►Feb. 8: Signed Pedro Payano
►Feb. 10: Signed Greg Garcia
►Feb. 10: Signed Renato Nunez
►Feb. 12: Signed Nomar Mazara — These are the types of signings — reclamation projects — Tigers fans have seen for too long, and are sick of. But Mazara, a veteran outfielder, has a not-too-long-ago history of producing 20 homers a season (albeit, in Texas). He was cheap, at just $1.75 million on a one-year contract. Mazara got off to a decent-enough start, but an ab strain shut him down for a couple weeks (coinciding with the Tigers’ offensive blackout). He’s struggled since returning, with one hit in 12 at-bats.
►Feb. 12: Travis Demeritte claimed off waivers by Braves
►Feb. 18: John Schreiber claimed off waivers by Red Sox
►Feb. 19: Signed Wily Peralta
►Feb. 19: Signed Ben Taylor
►Feb. 23: Signed Julio Teheran
►Feb. 26: Signed Ricardo Pinto
►Feb. 27: Signed Drew Hutchison
►March 19: Signed Mark Leiter Jr.
►March 26: Released Greg Garcia
►March 29: Released Ben Taylor
►April 15: Signed Juan Centeno
►May 12: Released Franklin Perez
►May 14: Signed Franklin Perez
Note: Baseball-Reference.com’s comprehensive transactions records were heavily relied upon while researching this project.