Henning: With no big deadline deals, Tigers GM Al Avila’s fate seems all but sealed

Detroit News

About all that was certain Tuesday as the Tigers and their big-league buddies headed for a 6 p.m. trade deadline was Tigers general manager Al Avila’s no-win status with hostile fans.

If the Tigers made a deal, which seemed likely given their stash of back-end bullpen arms, fans would have been nearly unanimous in saying — no matter what Detroit got back — it was far from enough.

Guaranteed, that would have been the prevailing view.

And if Avila failed to make a thrilling trade, which might have sent a prime-time trade chip — Gregory Soto, Andrew Chafin, Alex Lange, or Joe Jimenez — to a team willing to fork over a handsome prospect or two, well, it was one more example that Avila can’t deal and probably asked too much and can we please get another GM in Comerica Park’s third-floor executive offices, ASAP?

The second grievance won. There were no heavy Tigers trades; only a couple of minor transactions involving two players who in a couple of months become free agents: Robbie Grossman and Michael Fulmer.

Rentals, as they’re known, fetch little in return. This the Tigers confirmed in getting a minor-league, left-handed reliever named Kris Anglin as payment from the Braves for Grossman. They then sent Fulmer to the Twins for a Double-A starter, Sawyer Gipson-Long, whose name sounds like the author of a book you last night read to your kids.

What Tuesday implied, rightly or wrongly, was that this season of utter misery for the Tigers was not about to be redeemed or even mitigated by any deadline dealing on the part of a GM whose time running the Tigers appears near an end.

No giveaways

Avila wasn’t in giveaway mode Tuesday, for sure. He never has been a GM who doubled as a daredevil in dealing players. Part of that has been the fact the Tigers were wiped out of trade stock when the last long playoff run ended in 2014 and were stuck with old and expensive guys no one wanted. Any trade capital since has arrived in the form of players the Tigers have needed for a never-ending rebuild.

Part of the transactional troubles might also, fairly, be attributed to caution or conservatism on his part.

That may or may not be fair. Avila has been hit hard for past trades that got little in return, notably the 2017 deals for J.D. Martinez and Justin Verlander. But as has been explained here, multiple times, panning those trades in 2022 is either reckless criticism or paying no heed to 2017’s realities.

More: Henning: Al Avila can deal when he has chips — and Tigers have a big one in Tarik Skubal

Other deals — the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila package, the swaps for Shane Greene and Nick Castellanos, etc. — they’re still being analyzed. But don’t count on historical drama there.

Tuesday’s deadline, it seemed, would be different. A bunch of MLB contenders needed relievers, or so it seemed.

But they went elsewhere. And note that the relievers who were dealt were not moved for sizzling returns. This, no doubt, was Avila’s dilemma Tuesday as he would have fairly wanted full retail for the back-end bunch that has been one of the Tigers’ few plus-points in 2022.

Avila clearly stayed away from late trades that were judged by him to be shaky swaps. Whatever the Tigers crowd thinks of Avila, he wasn’t, in good conscience, going to feather another team’s nest and not get adequate flesh in return.

“Nothing moved the needle,” Avila told reporters.

So, now for the season’s final two months — which most likely will be Avila’s final weeks as Tigers GM.

There are no assurances, of course, that Chris Ilitch, who functions as Tigers owner, will replace Avila.

But there will be little choice.

Ilitch has to understand he has lost the fans in 2022. Most of Comerica Park’s customers went along with a marathon rebuild, which always was going to be lengthy, owing to the bloated mess of a ballclub Avila inherited in 2015. A year ago, it looked as if the fans’ patience and Avila’s persistence had paid off.

But this year’s nightmare has turned more into a death-spiral following last year’s revival. It’s as far as Tigers Nation can go.

Time for change

At some point their voices count. And this is the time, seven years into a reconstruction that has left the Tigers staring at not only a sadistic run of bad luck — one ungodly injury after another — but also at a deficient roster that ultimately is Avila’s responsibility.

It’s difficult to know what Ilitch will do, or how he might act in naming a new GM.

If his choice is to stay internal, he probably chooses young assistant GM Sam Menzin.

If he goes outside — and, frankly, this organization probably needs an infusion of new blood and thought — there will be no shortage of exceedingly bright people dying to craft a new baseball product in Detroit.

The team has a foundation. It has some building blocks. It has some farm help coming.

But it needs a dynamic new approach to its roster construction.

Ilitch can do worse than lean on his manager, AJ Hinch, for help here. Hinch has been around and knows the bright lights at other MLB venues.

Allowing him to pick his new boss would not be wise. But drawing upon his networking skills and his new-age insight can only benefit Ilitch. It would help ensure that this next new chapter of Tigers baseball is healthy and has a real chance to flourish.

I thought seven years ago that Avila was walking into an ambush. Any GM then tackling the Tigers long-term troubles — and they were going to be a mess for years owing to the excesses as late owner Mike Ilitch pushed for an 11th-hour championship — was stepping into a situation many times worse than inheriting, say, an expansion franchise.

Some will say, maybe correctly, that it didn’t have to be this bad, for this long.

They might be right.

All the Tigers and Ilitch can do today is to acknowledge what fans have finally, indisputably, decided.

This can’t go on. There has to be change.

Trades on Tuesday that might have gotten the fans’ heartbeats re-started would have been nice.

But they weren’t going to change the big picture.

That’s an adjustment, now more of a mandate, that seemingly will begin in eight weeks, once this disaster of a baseball season in Detroit has been dispatched.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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