Detroit Tigers shouldn’t sell at trade deadline with Al Avila. He lacks the track record

Detroit Free Press

Before you lose your top at the thought of Al Avila selling off the Detroit Tigers’ (few) assets for prospects — again, remember the bigger question as Major League Baseball’s trade deadline looms:

Should this Tigers general manager be the one who decides if the club should sell or not?

Because I’m not sure how you trust him to make the call. Not after saying his team was ready to compete for the playoffs in March. Not after so many wrong-sided deals at the trade deadline in years past, selloffs that brought minimal returns.

Ultimately, this is Christopher Ilitch’s decision, and he knows less about baseball than Avila. Though his more important decision is whether to bring back Avila for another go-around.

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Barring a miracle, it’s hard to argue for Avila. He has had his chances. He knows that. Fresh organizational eyes at the top are what the Tigers need.

Yet Ilitch could (semi-rationally) make a case to run it back with his long-time general manager. He could look at the injuries this year. The fluky vertigo suffered by Austin Meadows. The personal issues that derailed Eduardo Rodriguez. The elbow injury to Casey Mize. The expectation that overwhelmed young Spencer Torkelson.

He could consider the players who fell below the standard of their own resumés; however, flawed those resumés.

Ilitch might wonder how Avila was supposed to know that Javier Báez would crater when he got to Detroit? Or that Jeimer Candelario, Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Schoop would this season, too?

[ Tigers trade Robbie Grossman to Braves for left-handed prospect Kris Anglin ]

Ilitch could certainly take this into consideration. He might also think about the state of the minor league system Dave Dombrowski left Avila, and the state of the scouting philosophy; Ilitch talked earlier this summer about how pleased he had been with Avila’s revamped analytic department.

In fact, he said he was pleased with the overall progress of the franchise, which means there is a possibility Avila will be back.

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That could change, of course. Ilitch knows how unhappy fans are. He also knows how disappointing the summer has been, for everyone.

From his view, though, he might also believe that Avila needed a few years to modernize and a few years to draft and that he’s only had one year to spend money — last winter.

That spending — on Báez and Rodriguez, most notably — hasn’t worked out, and that could be enough for Ilitch to decide it’s time to make a change. He may be slow to remove general managers, but he’s done it before, when he fired Ken Holland and brought in Steve Yzerman.

Rebuilds are tough, Ilitch has said several times. Patience is key. He, like his father before him, has shown loyalty to those that run their teams.

Patience isn’t what Tigers’ fans want to hear, obviously. Remember the reaction when Ilitch took a positive view of Avila at new Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde’s news conference?

Avila, to his credit, hasn’t tried to spin the job he has done, or the season his team is having.

“It all starts with me,” he told reporters last month. “I said not too long that I was not happy, and that I was very angry, as a matter of fact, about how things have turned out. We expected to have a better record, and we’re working towards it.”

[ Tigers weren’t supposed to be sellers at MLB trade deadline. How it all went wrong ]

For now, it looks like he’ll get the rest of the season to work. And if Avila sells before the deadline and trades a few players with expiring contracts, you’ll know Ilitch still believes in him to a degree.

If he trades a potential cornerstone, like pitcher Tarik Skubal? You’ll have even more of an answer.

Five seasons ago, the team had a similarly gifted young pitcher on a team going nowhere. I argued Avila should’ve considered trading Michael Fulmer then because he didn’t align with the timeline of the rebuild.

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Fulmer eventually got hurt. Worked his way back and found a spot in the bullpen. Yet his value is obviously nowhere near what it was.

That’s the gamble, I suppose, in not trading Skubal if a good offer comes Avila’s way. The question is: does he have the chops to trade for prospects that will eventually contribute? History says he doesn’t.

The other question is: are the Tigers as bad top-to-bottom as they were in 2017 when Fulmer was dominating?

I don’t think they are. That squad didn’t have Riley Greene, or the hope of Torkelson; he’s young and it’s way too early to give up on him. Nor did that team have potential in the rotation, if the pitchers can ever get healthy.

Meadows could still be a productive player. Báez could find his way back to the solid player he was before he arrived in Detroit.

In other words, there are some pieces if the team is intact. And we’ve all seen the difference Greene has made. So, trading away the team’s best starter and a chunk of the bullpen doesn’t make sense.

Avila hasn’t shown an eye for future talent in these deals. Which means if Ilitch is going to let him run it back, he should tell Avila to sit tight, hope the team’s health gets better and try to improve the team in the offseason.

Then again, Avila hasn’t shown he can rebuild through the free agency market, either. Yes, he’s had some tough luck, especially lately.

But luck doesn’t explain his entire tenure. Nor do the financial handcuffs Ilitch slapped on him in 2017. Avila has had five years to build a team that shows something. He hasn’t.

If another rebuild is necessary, someone else should oversee it. This starts with very little selling at the trade deadline.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.  

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