By:  Holly Horning

Al Avila announced this week that the Tigers will be getting leaner and younger (and let’s hope faster) going forward.

Whether the decision was based upon watching the top teams in the playoffs, trying to avoid ugly years of ageing players with untradeable monster contracts, a new ownership voice in charge or the first salvo in preparing this team to be sold – or all of the above – won’t be determined until at least early 2017 when the roster has been solidified and we get our first hint.

There’s simply too much information to cover all the possibilities in one blog so today, let’s address one of the rationales that may help explain why the Tigers are changing course now.

We can only hope that Al Avila was watching every single moment of the playoffs so far because there is a common denominator in the teams who have been playing recently.

Teams who each have a toolbox filled to the brim with all sorts of ways to win:
– Small ball and speed to get runners on base
– Bunt singles to start a rally
– Closers used in the mid-innings during the most high-leverage situations
– Starting pitchers brought in to close out the 9th
– Visible contributions to the win by multiple and different players each day
– Bullpens where pitchers are mixed and matched to the situations
– Managers who play mental chess with their opposing manager with fake set-ups and countermoves.

And the Tigers? They have none of this. And the biggest reason is that they have grown old and stale, stuck in the outdated ways of baseball. Simply, they haven’t evolved as most other teams have.

Like the Yankees of George Steinbrenner’s era, the Tigers were built upon the star principles. Vast dollars were spent in an attempt to buy a title. Players became one-dimensional – mostly big guys who could slug the heck out of a ball but couldn’t field as well and certainly couldn’t run. Lots of guys who made their own headlines and won tons of individual awards but somehow couldn’t carry a team on their backs to the finish line.

They have been a team with 2 tools in their box – starting pitching and home run hitting. Stuff that is exciting to watch and fills the seats on a regular basis. And one of those tools didn’t get them far at all in two World Series when met with excellent opposing pitching. They lived and died by the home run. Still do.

In simple terms, when baseball started to noticeably change approximately 10 years ago, the Tigers, like our favorite announcer used to say, “stood there like the house by the side of the road.” They failed to adapt. They failed to modernize. And it’s been their m.o. going all the way back to the 80’s when they last….well, you know the rest.

And part of the reason has to do with the ages of the decision-makers, combined with the problems created by their intense loyalty to anyone who has worked for the club. The older one gets, the less likely he is willing to welcome, explore or adapt to new ideas and trends.

Mike Ilitch is one of the oldest owners in baseball. His former GM, Dave Dombrowski, is the second oldest GM (even though he holds another title) at 60 in MLB. Most GMs now range in age from their 30’s into the mid-50’s with the majority of them in their 40’s. They also now come with advanced degrees in baseball-related topics.

Their new GM, Al Avila, while “only” 58, still ranks as one of the sport’s oldest GMs and just 2 years younger than Dave. And Special Assistant, Jim Leyland, is about to turn 72. If you read last week’s blog, you’ll see just how much power and influence he still holds within the organization.

Then there’s the coaching staff. The oldest in the sport. Gene Lamont is about to turn 70 and is at minimum 15 – 20+ years older than the 29 other bench coaches. The rest of the guys are in their 50’s and 60’s with Brad Ausmus, at 47, as the spring chicken.

Sense a pattern here?

But now, it is being reported with more frequency that Chris Ilitch is in charge of the Tigers. And he’s approximately 35 years younger than his dad – in his early 50’s. And maybe he’s the catalyst for modernizing this team. Just don’t expect him to inject youth into the coaching staff – at least for this year – because he’s really busy directing the makeover of this roster.

And speaking of Chris, getting this team up-to-speed may not be his only motivation. Stay tuned because on Monday, we’ll continue to delve into the changes we may see with the organization.


By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

What a strange week this has turned out to be. As fans, we will all be holding our breath as we contemplate the next chapter of Tiger baseball; one that sounds nothing like years past.

Kurt and Holly have been biding their time waiting to see how each other has responded to the following question. And it’s an interesting one.

Al Avila said the Tigers will be getting younger and leaner starting this year.  Why now and why this extreme statement?


Al has to begin to take the reins. It’s been Mike Ilitch for the last several years who has thrown a lot of money around in the effort to improve the roster. And as much as he has trusted the judgment of his GM, going back to Dombrowski and now Avila, he has had a role that appeared disruptive and deviated from the initial plan; especially late in the process, which has hurt the team and the bottom line.

Of course, there have been exceptions where late decisions by ownership bagged us Miguel Cabrera. But on the other side of the coin, Ilitch has swooped in with what seemed like panic moves in the form of acquisitions of both Prince Fielder and Justin Upton.

Now with Mike Ilitch’s role diminishing and Chris Ilitch more involved, the course is about to be redirected. The reigns are being pulled back on spending. But this has been brought on by a mismanagement of ownership. It’s been brought on by a flawed roster burdened by huge contracts leaving no alternative to improve outside of spending more money; restricting the growth and success of the franchise.

Look, Avila saw what Dombrowski was able to do with a handful of aces in the form of Price, Cespedes and Soria. Our starting pitching staff has a very bright future because of it.

Knowing all of that, Avila is now looking around his locker room and sees money lying all over the floor; opportunities to trade for potentially the same kind of young talent Dombrowski was able to deliver.

No one wants to see any of the players rumored to be on the block, leaving Detroit. But Avila recognizes the crossroads. Since becoming GM, he has been very transparent and forthright with his opinions and his plans. A complete departure from what we were used to with Dave Dombrowski.

And Avila’s statement certainly gives fans pause. It’s pretty sobering to think who may depart Detroit. But it’s clear that Avila has been given a different direction to go. The “win now” mode has been put to bed. This time, don’t expect the ownership to swoop in for another expensive splash.


There are two ways to read this statement and we won’t know which one prevails until Hot Stove season is over and we see which Tigers are traded – and how many. But there are two ways to translate the intention of Avila’s statement so let’s explore.

The first rationale could be the realization by owner and GM that the formula the Tigers used for over a decade is not the right solution. It is the highest Tigers’ payroll ever – added onto this year as one final Hail Mary attempt. Al Avila has now settled comfortably into his job and like all GMs, is ready to leave his mark on the team by making changes that align more with his vision.

Avila could be of the mind that the Tigers need to adopt the winning ways of teams who are younger, more versatile – and less expensive. We know he introduced a manual of “how to play” and an analytics department so maybe this is his attempt to put more resources and attention into the minors and develop players for the long-term.

Potentially, and knowing that Dave Dombrowski left him precious little in the farm system, this could also be the way he reboots the farm system in the quickest way possible by filling it with young talent by trading veterans.

He could also be moving on this now in order to avoid the lengthy decline that teams like the Phillies experienced with ageing stars signed to lengthy, expensive contracts. Trading players who each had good, solid years may just be the last time they could be desirable to other teams – and a way for the Tigers to avoid watching their eventual decline and albatross effect in Detroit.

But, on the other hand, this may be the first sign of a change of ownership and direction. Reports of Mr. I no longer making decisions about the team are rampant with several publications reporting that Chris Ilitch is now in charge. The same son, according to reports, who made Dave Dombrowski trade Doug Fister for budget reasons in order to sign Joe Nathan back in 2013 when Mr. I was very ill and not running the team.

It’s always been known that the rest of the family is not as enamored of the team as the patriarch. And this could be either an attempt to finally put some black ink in the ledger when it comes to years of payroll exceeding revenue. It could be an effort to get this team user-friendly for selling because they want to put the focus back on the Red Wings and their new arena which opens next year.

But in either case, the statement serves as Avila’s way of preparing fans – setting them up gently so that when trades do happen, fan reaction may be more tempered. Whether we see a couple of veterans leave or something more akin to a fire sale remains to be seen.


By:  Kurt Snyder

From August 2015

It’s been a grind, hasn’t it? For all of us. Imagine what it has been like for Dave Dombrowski. He must be relieved. I believe Mike Ilitch has worn the man out.

Maybe this wasn’t the best of everything for Dave Dombrowski. Maybe he needed an owner with a plan to make progress towards a championship, instead of one constantly pushing all the chips to the middle of the table every year.    

This is an excerpt from a blog I wrote the day after Dave Dombrowski was relieved of his duties in August 2015.

He had just finished what has turned out to be a retooling of the Tiger starting rotation; quickly invigorated by the acquisition of highly talented pitchers who incredibly have already arrived for duty in the big leagues.

In hindsight, some might wish the Tigers had done this long ago. Some might wish we had done this more often. But the win-now edict weighing heavily on every Tiger team we can remember since ’06, looks to now have run its course. And the Tigers may begin to endure some pain. It will be necessary pain, but painful all the same.

Fans have loved Mike Ilitch. Major stars have donned the Old English D. Trade deadlines and off seasons have been just as exciting as the games themselves. Every Tiger fan waited with great anticipation at every trade deadline, during each offseason, wondering what the next big splash the Tigers would make.

But the Tigers, whether it’s Mike or Chris Ilitch, look to finally be ready to pull the plug. If we can believe what they say, there will be no big splash this off-season; unless of course, you call a trade of a fan favorite a big splash. It sounds like we are about to experience exactly that. That’s the pain I’m speaking of; the necessary pain.

No one wants to see some of these guys we have grown to love, leave town. Guys like JD or JV, in a lot of eyes, belong here forever.

But it’s reality check time. Mike Ilitch has taken us on the ride of our lives, but the ride never ever ends with us smiling. So the team has to take a step back, play a different brand of baseball, change its identity.

There are examples of winning baseball all over the league. And then there are examples of teams just like the Tigers, experiencing the same issues. High payroll, one-dimensional play, disappointing performances, inconsistent and slowly diminishing returns.

Al Avila said the Tigers needed to get younger and leaner. You can read a lot into that. It represents a step back. It will be a step back meant to better prepare them for a championship. And if that sacrifices a real run at the division next season, so be it.

Don’t be mistaken, Mike Ilitch, your “savior” of Detroit baseball, has brought them to this point. He has been the snake oil salesman who has sold us on high profile dynamics; a roster filled with power that has kept those turnstiles spinning.  But when they started to slow down, it got the owner’s attention. The formula is no longer appealing. It’s not a winning formula.

So now what?  Well, suddenly the language has changed. No more win-now mode. No mention of contending; only competing.

This is about to get real interesting. The Tigers are about to head down a painful path.  And all we can do now is hope we have the right people in place to lead them. That is still yet to be proven.


By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Baseball still lives and breathes at Totally Tigers. We will keep grinding the pavement looking for answers to some of the team’s most compelling questions.

On this Tuesday, our writers will tackle questions regarding potential off-season trades. So, it will be interesting to see the range of perspectives, given Holly and Kurt haven’t shared their answers, per usual.

Of all the Tiger veterans who have been mentioned as potential trade pieces, who is most likely to be traded?


Let’s ignore the bullpen as it’s a transient piece, along with players like Pelfrey and Sanchez for obvious reasons, and focus on the players we’d hate to see leave.

First of all, the presumed new rotation of Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer, Norris and Boyd won’t be leaving if the Tigers want to compete in 2017. And despite certain journalists who try to raise readership levels with their outrageous theories, Miguel Cabrera ain’t goin’ anywhere either. Nothing kills attendance, revenue and upsets the fan base more than trading your franchise player and certain Hall-of-Famer.

If Al Avila is smart, he won’t trade the glue that holds this team together – Maybin and especially Ian Kinsler who is now an absolute bargain. And Nick Castellanos is staying as he develops into a promising top of the line slugger and is team-controlled for another 3 years.  But Avila may try to trade Justin Upton in order to keep JD Martinez beyond next year.

Who actually gets traded is really going to depend upon who is ready to step into their shoes. Sadly, two of the most likely candidates are JD Martinez due to expected high salary demands in 1 year and Jose Iglesias, who will certainly leave in 2 years with Scott Boras peddling him to the highest bidder. Iglesias is currently at his highest trade value before he becomes a “rental” in less than a year.

Potentially, if Bruce Rondon is finally deemed ready to handle more responsibility, he and/or Joe Jimenez could replace KRod as the closer. The results from Winter Ball will be really telling in terms of where our GM will go.


Maybe we should start with the vets who won’t be traded; Verlander and Cabrera. These are mainstays on this team, still playing at a high level. Many who don’t have skin in the game might say, yeah right, that’s why they should be trade bait. But these are the pillars of the Tigers who mean a lot to the success of the organization and will continue to lead this team.

Frankly, this off-season could be more about who is not signed or who is let go, but if I am forced to answer and that’s really the point of this exercise, I will swallow hard and say J.D. Martinez.

The Tigers, who again are hinting at decreasing their payroll, would go a long way towards doing that by avoiding a Martinez contract extension. They have young outfielders in the minors, led by JaCoby Jones, and they may decide to go young at both remaining outfield positions, rightfield and centerfield, as Justin Upton is cemented in left.

In the end, it’s the Upton deal that is the real shame in all of this. Because having to consider trading JD is a real kick in the teeth.

What area of weakness should the Tigers strengthen if they were to trade a front line player?


A front line player, by definition, is a major piece and we shouldn’t expect him to fetch a reliever or two due to their typical unexpected performance and occasional use. No, any new player should be an essential cog and everyday player.

Starting pitching should be Avila’s primary goal. The Tigers have 5 starters of varying degrees of dependability – JV, Zimmermann, Fulmer, Boyd and Norris. Given that 3 of the 5 went on the DL in 2016, one more starter would give them depth when (not if) one of them goes down or has their innings limited.

Conceivably, either Boyd or Norris could go to the bullpen early in the year and step into the rotation later on. They could join Pelfrey or Sanchez there if the latter cannot be traded.

But if the Tigers can’t get that starting pitcher, then the outfield needs to be their focus. The Tigers’ outfield (not just the 3 starters) were one of the worst in MLB this past year with a -56 runs lost due to their defensive skills. And the Tigers are desperate for outfielders given that they switched JaCoby Jones from the infield to CF and signed 3 ageing MLB veterans to minor league contracts in order to fill in the gaps.


Although trading JD Martinez would be a huge blow to the Tigers offensively, it would be an opportunity to improve defensively, which was a real problem in the outfield in 2016.

Younger and speedier outfielders will always be an asset in the huge expanse of Comerica Park. Many still wonder why the Tigers haven’t really built their team for the park. But that horse has been beaten enough.

Depending on who we trade, the bullpen must also be part of the return package. And given the change in philosophy around the league, it wouldn’t hurt for the Tigers to follow suit in getting some more versatility down in the pen.

You can never have enough pitching, and we just don’t know if pitchers like Greene and Wilson will develop or decline. Same goes for Rondon and of course KRod, if he sticks around. Standing pat in the bullpen is never an option. You can continue to build from within, but must also keep an eye out for a difference maker via trade.


By:  Holly Horning

As fans, we tend to focus on what could have been when it comes to seeing how former Tigers have fared once traded. We lament over losing such greats as John Smoltz and now Andrew Miller, ignoring the essential information that their new teams completely deconstructed and rebuilt their pitching deliveries which was responsible for making them successful.

But we rarely celebrate the deals the Tigers fortunately escaped. Deals that would become additional albatrosses around the neck of Detroit for their length and cost.

The playoffs this year have presented a more visible reminder of the risks associated with signing high-priced pitchers to long-term deals. Pitchers who are inked with the expectations that they will guide their teams to playoff spots and then help their team play deep into the playoffs if not the World Series. General Managers who risk large chunks of payroll and long-term flexibility to roll the dice on a single guy who only pitches every five days and still deemed to be the savior.

And this is where we, as fans, should be grateful about what the Tigers have managed to avoid. The playoffs this year have highlighted how 3 former Tigers starting pitchers have continued to fail when it means the most.

Rick Porcello, now with Boston, was signed to an extension going through 2019 for $83 million dollars. His record, through the latest year of playoffs now stands at 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA. The Tigers landed 3 players for him including Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson.

David Price was added to Boston’s rotation and is currently the second most highly-paid starting pitcher after Clayton Kershaw. At a salary of $217 million and a contract that goes through 2020, he is 2-8 in playoffs with a 5.44 ERA.

Several scouts are on the record saying that Price starting losing his talent a year ago. They point to his speed going down as well as his inability to move the ball around. They said that his vertical movement – meaning moving the ball up and down in the strike zone – is no longer there. The Tigers got 3 players for him, including Norris and Boyd.

The Red Sox now have tied up approximately $300 million in 2 starters with abysmal post-season records. Highly unlikely they are going to be able to trade them, especially Price, with those salaries. This doesn’t bode well for future Octobers in Boston.

And lastly, there’s Max Scherzer. Third highest pitching contract at $210 million with a contract that runs through 2021 but the Nationals will be paying him through 2028 when he’s in his 40’s and long-since retired. Max is 4-4 with a 3.74 ERA in the post-season with his last win coming with the Tigers in 2013.

Here in DC, much talk has revolved around Scherzer who is said to have had his fastball flatten out and is one of MLB’s leaders in giving up HRs. Max has been with the team for 2 years now and fans are already questioning the signing and how his future will play out.

What these three have in common is their expensive contracts and not having helped their teams win a single playoff game this year. It appears to be a double-edged sword in signing these guys who can help get their teams to the post-season but then can’t deliver when it’s really needed.

But to be balanced, there were a couple of occasions where at least Max pitched well, but not well enough. We all know the mantra that good pitching wins, but if you don’t have the bats to go with it, all is for naught. Something we hope the Tigers learned after 2 World Series in which they won exactly one game.

Could it be that the Tigers actually made the best choice in which pitcher to keep? Justin Verlander. He’s the only one of the four with a winning post-season record. 7 – 5. He’s got 3 years at $84 million left on his contract with a possible incentive year based solely upon performance.

From this past year, we’ve seen JV evolve from being a thrower into a pitcher but still with some blazing speed when warranted. Many thought it was one of the worst contracts ever signed. While it is nothing to sneeze at, it appears that JV, so late in the game, has performed better – and aged better – than at least Max and Price. And he once again, returned to ace status in 2016.

And this is where the intangibles also come into play. Never discount them when analyzing talent. JV has shown that he is total bulldog and that the competitive spirits still burns brighter than most. And this could be a very good thing in 2017 when 3 youngsters hopefully join him full-time in the rotation.


By:  Kurt Snyder

This is the time of the year when you show your true colors as a baseball fan. You find out who’s a fan of the sport and who’s just a fan of their team.

Not even a blog like Totally Tigers can draw interest if we don’t keep tabs on the game’s evolving trends; at a time when they present themselves more than any other time. In the playoffs. This year. Right now.

Let’s take a quick peak at one team looking to advance to the World Series. Really the story of the playoffs so far has not been about starting pitching, it’s been about the guys in the pen. Oh, and defense and fearless base running. Aggressiveness. Ingenuity. Creativity. You want more? How many more do you want me to dig out of my thesaurus?

Last year’s champs, the Royals, began this turnaround. But the game and how it is won, has evolved even more since. And isn’t Andrew Miller really the story?

Terry Francona and the Indians found they had a relief pitcher that could help them at any time. He would not have an established role. He would pitch when the team needed him the most, for as long as they needed him.

And with the Indians success as a potential model, other teams may now decide they need to find that talented, dominant, jack-of-all-trades type workhorse. There is no discussion in Cleveland about their 7th-inning guy or their 8th-inning guy. Sometimes even the closer role is up for grabs. Andrew Miller can fill that role, too, if Francona decides it gives them the best chance to win. He plays no favorites. It’s completely about winning.

The closest the Tigers have to someone like this is Alex Wilson, but there is such a huge discrepancy in talent, you can’t even spend another sentence trying to compare situations. And besides, the Tigers are still structuring a pen with defined roles based on inning. But baseball is changing once again. And after so many years of teams using that relief strategy, it looks like it could be on the way out.

Starting pitching? Everybody wants it. But stockpiling as the Tigers are painfully familiar with, may no longer be necessary if you find that reliever or relievers who can dominate and shorten the game, at any point of the game. Sure teams play a different game in the playoffs where we are seeing more urgency, but this season, starters are getting yanked far earlier, long before real trouble presents itself.

If you look back at the bevy of Cy Young Award winners the Tigers employ or used to employ, you always wonder why they just never got the job done and won at least one championship. Well, there are so many factors, but bullpen performance, structure and usage are becoming the secret antidote to competing for championships.

With a rotation of Justin Verlander (Cy Young, MVP, 2 no hitters), Max Scherzer (Cy Young, 2 no hitters), Anibal Sanchez (ERA title, 1 no hitter) and Rick Porcello (22 game winner and Cy Young candidate this season), the Tigers still could not come out of the fray victorious.

Building sexy starting rotations can be a formula and maybe even a trap for teams across the league; a dangerous strategy considering all the risk associated with spending big dollars on starting pitching; the most fragile position in the game.

When the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer, All-Star Bryce Harper couldn’t contain himself. His first reaction was, “Where’s my ring?”

As he envisioned a rotation that included Scherzer and Strasburg, Bryce found it hard to believe they could be beaten. But since Scherzer has arrived in Washington, Harper has yet to be asked for his ring size. Well, isn’t that a shame?

Remember, Harper made noise early in the season about his unhappiness with how painfully dull it is to play in the Major Leagues, so forgive me if I quietly chuckle over his “misfortune.”

Teams like Washington and Detroit are learning the hard way. There are just more ways to skin a cat. In the playoffs, starters are leaving earlier, closers are finding themselves in games sooner than they would expect and managers are creatively piecing their way to victory.

No roles, just a feel for what makes sense. And for all of us who have loved the game for most of our lives, the game is once again turning a corner. Baseball. Still a strategist’s dream. A sport like no other.


By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on many different issues. Even with the season over for the Tigers, there is still much to talk about.

Kurt and Holly don’t share and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. It almost always translates into a wide array of thoughts; well, most of the time.



Innovation continues to change the way the game is played and the way a game is managed. Infield shifts have now become the norm in baseball and now managers are beginning to introduce a hybrid type reliever; i.e. the Indians with Andrew Miller being employed in different roles when he seems to be a classic closer. Teams that become more creative strategically will be the ones at the top of divisions going forward.


I am not going to lie, I found some satisfaction in seeing Max Scherzer denied once again of having his cake and eating it, too. Leaving Detroit for bigger money left a bad taste in my mouth to start with; but watching his team bow out of the playoffs didn’t hurt my feelings. Not to be ignored were the gutsy performances of the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw who teamed to put the Nats away.


What the heck, while I’m telling the truth, I guess I won’t hesitate to admit finding pleasure in watching Dombrowski’s Red Sox team go down either. I think we can all agree in Detroit that the last thing we wanted is for DD to head to another team and win a championship right out of the gate. And the clean sweep made it even a little sweeter; sorry Dave.



Using closers in the middle innings, using starters as closers on 2 days’ rest, playing small ball early on in order to score the winning runs and playing with the highest sense of urgency. These were the playoffs so far – games that resembled chess matches between managers more than they did baseball. Even if the Tigers’ roster gets stronger, and Brad gets better, how can he possibly compete against guys like Bochy, Maddon and Francona, who have honed their strategies and gut instincts from years of managing and playoff experience?


Boston ain’t Detroit, Dave – where fans have zero tolerance for losing and aren’t thrilled with his reputation because he never won it all in Detroit. Online petitions have circulated all year for firing Manager John Farrell, despite the Bosox standings, 93 wins, first place finish and playoff participation. In the end, Dombrowski made no real commitment to Farrell’s future by offering his manager a one-year extension, just like Al Avila.


Who will be named the Tigers’ new hitting coach? Will it be Lloyd McClendon, the former hitting coach for Detroit as well as a former MLB manager who would like to manage once again? Or, could it be Victor Martinez as a part-time player/coach which would help answer concerns about his obvious physical issues and untradeable contract while also helping the team justify his salary and save a little money on one less hire.


By:  Holly Horning

Let’s say, for fun, that we put together a family tree of the Tigers’ decision-makers. All management personnel as it relates to the players.

And from first glance, we would see that some of the offspring were too closely-related to one another. Some would even say that a number of relationships should not have been allowed to happen.

In summary, we could believe that the Tigers, at least for the past 15 years, are the illegitimate love child between the Expos, Marlins, Pirates and White Sox. And in no way is that a good thing if you think about it.

You see, the Detroit brass is quite the cozy little group of the same men who have only slightly mutated over the past (almost) 2 decades. If anything, only the titles have changed. Very simply, they are the poster children for the old boys’ network. Let’s explore, shall we?

First of all, Dave Dombrowski. Gone but his fingerprints, people and plans still exist in Detroit. His experience before coming to Detroit was with the Expos, White Sox and Marlins. He knew Jim Leyland going back decades when he was a mere coach and of course, hired him to manage the Marlins. He also hired Al Avila in FL and brought him up to Detroit. A threesome that existed for many years until mid-2015.

In addition to working with these two, Avila also worked with Dave Littlefield, who is now his VP of Player Development. This, after Littlefield got fired from Pittsburgh for making trades so horrible that the team undid every single one when he left. Leyland also worked with Littlefield.

Also following Dombrowski and Avila from Florida were John Westoff, David Chadd, and Scott Pleis. Kevin Rand has been with Dombrowski for 25 years (since the Expos) and his assistant, almost as long.

The children from Leyland’s days with Pittsburg and the White Sox include Dave Clark, Omar Vizquel, Gene Lamont, and Lloyd McClendon. Rich Dubee is the child from the Marlins days. Some of them have been with Leyland and Dombrowski for decades.

Before we get to the stepchildren, it’s interesting to note that Dave Dombrowski is on the record (but not in the local papers) stating that he involved Jim Leyland to help him find his successor as manager.

So it should be no surprise to find the Tigers/Astros/Padres family branch included in here. Did Leyland lean on his friends Clark, Joyner and Scott Bream, all with those teams, to help him find Brad Ausmus?

And when Dombrowski headed north to Boston, not a single member of these decision-makers, big or small, went with him. Al Avila made sure their contracts were extended with Detroit literally within hours of his ascension to the GM position.

What’s interesting to note is the two guys who ended up “retiring” from the Tigers. Jeff Jones and Wally Joyner. The only guys who did not have that Pittsburg or Marlins background or didn’t work with Dave Dombrowski or Leyland earlier in their careers.

So what can we possibly think about these long-term relationships?

1. Jim Leyland appears to have way more influence than earlier thought. Despite no longer being manager, it appears he still carries significant weight in preserving jobs as well as having orchestrated the selection of his successor.

2. This is one of MLB’s longest surviving “bands of brothers” – and also one of the oldest. It flies directly in the face of stats showing teams are getting younger in their Front Offices and coaching staff by bringing in guys who have signed on to the newest strategies about playing the game.

3. Should we be surprised that everyone within this immediate gang is keeping their jobs for 2017?

4. Should we also be shocked that many of the issues that have plagued the team for years have not been addressed sufficiently? When you have the same group of people, thinking the same thoughts and giving the same opinions, you tend to get the same answers – and the same results.

We could garner from looking at the tree that Dombrowski was the grandfather of this organization, with Leyland as his son and a number of the coaches and Front Office personnel as his siblings. That would make Brad their child. Maybe it’s not the manager we should blame for the failure to reach Mr. I’s goal. Maybe we should be looking at the parents instead.

But the bottom line may be that the addition of new players, or even a change in manager, may not matter as long as the same people are making the same decisions based upon the same viewpoints. The titles may have changed, but the names and influence remain the same. And sadly, friendships may be the priority over winning.


By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Totally Tigers has discussed and analyzed team leadership this past season, with much of the scrutiny often focused on our manager.

But it’s time to address our GM, who now has one year under his belt as the maestro hired to make beautiful music in the form of a World Championship; something Dave Dombrowski was never able to do.

Both Holly and Kurt take a stab at the following question without sharing until right now.

How would you describe your confidence level after one season with Al Avila as GM?


Unfortunately, my level of confidence is lower today than it was a year ago. In 2015, it was now overdue in bringing in a new voice after Dave Dombrowski’s 14 years of work resulted in exactly 1 World Series game win.

And despite his retention of Brad Ausmus, I was heartened by Avila’s handling of Bruce Rondon, creation of an analytics department and development of a Tigers’ Way manual. During Hot Stove season, I liked the way he revamped the bullpen, found a new closer and signed Jordan Zimmermann.

As I always do, I give new management a one-year grace period. Results aren’t seen as quickly and it takes a while longer for GMs to get up to speed given the nature of their work as well as the natural delay in seeing the results of their labor. I believe a more accurate assessment comes after the second winter of roster tweaking.

But being asked to review his first year, I’d say that his roster moves were a mixed bag. Of course, Zimmermann’s issues were not directly his fault and the Pelfrey signing is most likely a result of his agent, Scott Boras, who only deals with owners and not GMs, pushing Mr. I. The Upton signing is also more likely to be a result of insistence from Mr. I as well.

The bottom line is that half of the overall moves made were decent but the other half were questionable. The question to ask is whether we should have expected more from a GM in his first year or cut him a little slack.

Retaining Brad for his option year is understandable, although disappointing to fans. Again, the GM always takes the hit for the owner and in this case, there are just too many stories out there that this short-term retention was a Chris Ilitch move.

My biggest concern is the move, or should I say “non-move” in allowing Ausmus to keep almost the entire coaching staff. We have yet to see if other coaches are going to “retire” or “leave to spend more time with the family” in order to dispel controversy. If everyone remains, this will tell me that little of any substance is going to change and that the same philosophy will remain intact.

For the Tigers to be #29 or #30 in base running, or ranking near the bottom in other categories for more than 1 year, and not addressing them with fresh perspectives, doesn’t give me any real confidence that the decision-makers are out to solve some long-standing problems. It tells me more that it is “business as usual.”

I still hold out hope that Avila makes some bold moves over the winter which will tell me he’s serious about breaking with the past and looking to adopt new strategies that will resolve long-standing patterns of play.


Why as a new GM in 2015, didn’t Avila put his stamp on this team by hiring his own manager, in a season when the pressure was still on to win it all? Why after a last place finish and the opportunity for a fresh start did he choose to just stay the course?

He must have seen more in his manager than the rest of us, declaring his reasoning and moving on to quickly put together a very respectable haul of player acquisitions, plugging almost all of the glaring holes in the roster.

2016 did end with a second place finish and a better record causing some to strangely focus on how the team had improved over last season. But if we were to ask Al Avila, this season was not to be judged on those parameters. It was to be judged on winning. Playoffs. A championship.  Anything short for Mr. Ilitch would be another wasted season.

So how did the acquisitions turn out?

Well, Jordan Zimmermann has certainly had better years, when he actually pitched an entire season – Fail.

Justin Upton has had comparable seasons, finishing with an incredibly dominant final 6 weeks. But he started and lingered through an equally incredible, long strike-out filled, production drought – Fair for most of the season.

Mark Lowe – Fail. Justin Wilson – Fair. Mike Aviles – Fail. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Fair, but not all bad. The success stories all revolved around Cameron Maybin and Francisco Rodriguez; players who may or may not be back depending on the decisions of our GM. If I missed anyone, it’s only because they didn’t do anything memorable either; oh wait, it was Mike Pelfrey, the decision based on gut, not the highly acclaimed analytics.

So in Al’s initial season as GM, he didn’t exactly make the grade or instill much confidence; a feeling that was cemented even more by duplicating his managerial decision from 2015.


By:  Kurt Snyder

After considering not doing 20 thoughts for September, I have reconsidered. The bitterness had to stop and I must remember my obligation.

So after 2 long weeks, let’s look back at my thoughts during a very disappointing month of the season; the highs, the lows and of course, hope for the future.

1. September solidified a very good starting 5 for 2017 as 3 rookies proved they were indeed ready for big league hitting. Fulmer, Norris and Boyd are all worthy of spots in the rotation.

2. Cam Maybin showed that even with a bad thumb, he would not be denied. He continued to play and play well. He’s someone that may not return next season, but how often can we watch glue guys walk away?

3. Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey are costing the Tigers a lot of money. Players tend to feel more expensive when they don’t play or pitch well. As much as it would hurt financially, these guys need to find other teams.

4. Justin Upton had one of the hottest months a player can have at the plate. So you shouldn’t be surprised that he was the A.L. Player of the month for September. Surprise! Miggy was.

5. Who thought going into September, knowing the schedule, the Tigers would at least earn a Wild Card if not challenge Cleveland for the division? Well, I did. Still can’t believe they screwed it all up.

6. After being concerned that the Tigers were bringing him back too early, I was pleasantly surprised to see Castellanos double in his first game back. But I was not pleased to see him wincing in pain the day after. I will trust the pain was expected and he was just playing through it.

7. A devoted reader pointed out that my disdain for interleague play in the last month of the season could be solved by making sure teams play in American League cities. Sounds like a good solution.

8. I was happy to see the Tigers were not tempted to platoon Aybar and Iglesias at shortstop. The vacancy at third during most of the month may have negated that itch, and Aybar handled the hot corner pretty solidly.

9. High end performances by Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton and JD Martinez in September still weren’t enough for the Tigers. Who’s still scratching their head?

10. Still can’t shake that blown save by KRod in that Saturday night game against the Royals. Maybe the most painful loss of the month, if not the season.

11. Fulmer slowed a bit in September, but I am pretty sure I will forgive the guy who will lead this rotation for many years to come. But don’t expect Justin Verlander to give up the role very easily.

12. Speaking of Verlander. Never, ever question him again, ever! Only decent run support cost him a 20 win season and maybe another Cy Young.

13. September bullpen positive #1? Bruce Rondon. Think about that.

14. Assuming each player got an exit interview heading into the off-season, I would hope Bruce was given a high dose of encouragement and praise. The Tigers should be real proud of how he turned himself around.

15. Not earning a Wild Card spot always hurts when year after year, Wild Card teams advance at least to the ALCS. But as bad as we wanted it, who felt good about the Tigers doing much with the opportunity? The word “squander” pretty much defined September.

16. Kyle Ryan ended the season having shown his team he’s got a real future in the pen. Hopefully he won’t follow the path of Drew VerHagen, who exited 2015 with the same hope.

17. Stephen Moya finished the season with plenty of question marks. But one thing is for certain. His career is in real trouble if he is not able to improve defensively.

18. David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria really made the Tigers better. Maybe even more now that they are gone. (Carry over from August)

19. It’s always hard to watch the Cleveland Indians do well, but what makes it harder than most times is watching them led by a manager who would have definitely come to Detroit if Leyland had left a year earlier. Things would surely look a whole lot differently around here about now.

20. Watching Miggy sitting alone in the dugout after the final out of the last game of the season in Atlanta made me a little sick. So many missed opportunities despite having a first ballot Hall of Famer carrying the team on his back.