By: Holly Horning
I’ve been singing Sheryl Crow’s song a lot lately. And after the acquisition of Francisco Rodriquez, I can’t get it out of my head.
Unlike most fans, I find the ascension of Al Avila to the GM job, interesting. I don’t buy into the “guilt by association ” mentality in reference to Al’s work under Dave. Just because someone works with another, doesn’t necessarily mean they see eye-to-eye or work in the same fashion.
Often, counterparts are hired in order to give balance to the discussions and decisions. Look at how Ronald Reagan and his VP, George Bush, were so completely different. (Sorry, I live in the political epicenter of the world and these references are a nasty habit.)
But I’ve already started seeing some differences between the GMs and, knock on wood, I see instances where Avila has gone down his own path. Let’s put his decision on Brad Ausmus on the backburner for now. If you haven’t read my earlier blog offering explanations for that action, catch up on it here:
But Avila, in his very first act, broomed the minor leagues. It tells us he wasn’t happy with the results or the people running things. It also tells us that the minors are getting ready to be overhauled.
And quite frankly, we should trust Al in this department. He grew up in the Dodger system in its most recent heyday, with his father, Ralph (a legendary scout), Al Campanis and Tommy Lasorda. He became a scout at an early age, rose quickly through the ranks and developed a ground-breaking scouting system focused on Latin America.
His vision resulted in him discovering a young lad named Miguel. On his advice, a young GM named Dombrowski signed this kid. Years later, he also saw potential in a player released by the Astros and recommended the Tigers sign him, too. Less than 2 years later, this rightfielder was named Tiger of the Year.
And that is a major difference between Al and Dave. Dave didn’t grow up in the sport and doesn’t have “scout” on his resume. He came into baseball as an administrative assistant. And given the current arguments about our manager, we all know that direct experience with a skill produces the best results.
And Avila changed the mindset of the Tigers by establishing a bona-fide analytics department. For years under Dave, almost all of the other MLB teams established one but Dave firmly refused. Goodbye Old School.
Compare, too, how both men handled their recent acquisitions of closers. Dave with his huge overpay for Kimbrel while also giving up 4 solid minor leaguers. In contrast, Al trading for a guy who cost much less and giving up only 1 player (so far). MLB analysts are saying overall that Al completed the smarter trade.
But Avila brings more to the table than just his scouting abilities. Born in Cuba, he is MLB’s only Latino GM. He has the ability to understand and bond with Spanish-speaking players unlike any other. And why is this important? Athletes who do not have English as their primary language are able to describe their feelings, needs, concerns and abilities in much more detail if they can converse in their native tongue.
It is also said that Mr. I and Al are close. So close that Avila is treated like a son. Maybe the differences between the owner and Dave made it difficult to communicate at times but just maybe Avila’s stronger relationship will allow him to be more direct with Mr. I about the needs and priorities of the team.
I’ve also noticed a pattern about our new GM. He talks about players’ talents beyond what the stats say. I don’t remember Dave ever discussing the “soft skills” his new acquisitions brought to the table. And that could be due to Dombrowski’s old school ways.
Al, on the other hand, talks about personalities, leadership skills and experience. He mentions the importance of players mentoring each other. He talks like a manager who is focused on gathering the right mix of people, not just a group of skills.
And that could be the most significant difference between the two GMs. One who made decisions based on paper, which never quite worked out. The other who digs just a little deeper.
So let’s see how this plays out. This could be the beginning of some new winds of change blowing into Comerica.