Detroit Tigers’ Christopher Ilitch has big task ahead: Find GM that lines up with A.J. Hinch

Detroit Free Press

If I were Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch …

I would met with manager A.J. Hinch and ask him a series of questions:

“Who do you think should be our next general manager? Have we under-utilized internal talent? Could the next general manager be Sam Menzin or somebody else in-house? What have we been doing wrong? What did they do in Houston that worked so well? Can you give me a short list of people who can do this job and you can work with? I want somebody who is forward thinking and smart and creative and has a fresh approach.”

Because Ilitch fired general manager Al Avila on Wednesday; and now, he’s searching for a replacement.

The key is to build an organization where everything is aligned perfectly:

The coaches. The scouts. The analytics department. The front office. Everybody.

[ Tigers fire GM Al Avila: A quick recap of his disappointing tenure ]

Hinch is a legit, big-time manager. I’d start this search with him in mind.

Which means finding a general manager who is in lock step with Hinch.

Thankfully, Ilitch said that Hinch, as well as other executives, will be part of the search process.

“This will be an exhaustive and thorough search,” Ilitch told reporters at a press conference. “Internal and external candidates will be considered.”

Could it be Hinch?

“No, I’m the manager,” Hinch told reporters. “I’ll participate in whatever Chris likes me to in order to help make this baseball organization better.”

A needed deep-dive on his organization

If I were Ilitch …

While trying to find the next GM, I would be focused on one central theme: Why has this failed?

Because this organization has repeated the same mistakes far too many times.

Was there a wall between scouting and the analytics department? Why has this organization produced so few position players? It is just because so much draft capital has been put into pitching?

Has it been a player development issue?

Why do the Tigers have so few international prospects?

Why have there been so many injuries this year?

Why did this team, which had so much promise coming out of spring training, fail so badly?

Is it all on Avila?

Is changing the head guy going to be enough or should there be other changes throughout the organization?

And while searching what went wrong, it’s important for Ilitch to recognize some things have worked.

Like how the Tigers found Riley Greene and all those young pitchers. How did that work?

Ilitch must find those answers before he does anything.

It hasn’t all been bad under Avila

While countless fans have been screaming about Avila for years, I did not call for Avila’s firing.

Because while the Tigers have failed in Detroit, I have seen progress in West Michigan and Erie. And I struggled, trying to reconcile both of those facts.

I spend a lot of my time during the summer writing about the Tigers minor league system and I have seen an increase of talent compared to past years. They have improved their drafting. Certainly, not every pick. But they have improved.

I’ve lost track of all the young pitchers who have rolled through Detroit this season and most have performed well. And that should be encouraging.

Avila should get credit for some of that.

But the major league club has clearly failed this year.

Some of that is on Avila.

Some falls on Hinch.

But some is on the players.

Ilitch tried to thread a needle, acknowledging there has been some progress in the midst of overall disappointment.

“The organization has made so much progress over the last few years,” he said. “We just have to get our momentum back.”

Look at other Detroit teams as examples

I find it curious that Ilitch made this move now.

He waited until after the draft.

After the trade deadline.

It was just weird timing.

“Once I made the decision, there was no reason to wait until the end of the season,” Ilitch said Wednesday. “I wanted to get a jump on the search progress.”

Many fans think it’s far too late.

“I feel very comfortable that I gave Al the time and the resources to accomplish our mission and he made good progress up until this year when our progress stalled,” Ilitch said.

Stalled?

It’s like locking the brakes going 55 mph.

When you consider the excitement at the start of this season to where they are now, it’s like a bad case of whiplash.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t make the progress we all expected. So I decided to make a change.”

There’s no guarantee this will propel the Tigers into contention. No guarantee he’ll pick the right person. This is a guy who extended Avila’s contract and then fired him.

I’ve seen the teams in this town switch general managers more times than I can remember.

And right now, none are in contention.

But it seems like the Lions and Pistons are on the right track. Because both teams have a vision and the general manager and coaches seem perfectly aligned.

That’s key.

Having that united vision.

So that’s Ilitch’s big challenge.

More than anything, the Tigers need to find a GM with a vision.

And if you ask me, it better be somebody who sees things like Hinch.

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