By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
Consider this week’s 2 x 2 as a progress report on the performance, so far, of Al Avila.
He’s done some things that have been impressive no doubt. But nobody is perfect. So what do we like so far, and on the other hand, what are some things we just aren’t sure about?
Kurt and Holly’s ‘Al Avila Progress Report’ is below.
1. What has impressed you about Al Avila so far?
As a long time student of Dave Dombrowski, many assumed Al was just going to be Dave Jr. Everything he knew, he had learned from Dombrowski.
But Avila forged his own path. He almost quite literally put together a shopping list both for the team and the organization itself. The players he has added, mostly, have not been predictable. But they were the kind of players he said he was going to go get, filling holes he said he would fill. So his full disclosure from a roster standpoint has been refreshing for sure.
However, the organizational moves have been slick and, I would like to say innovative, but they are not. They were just necessary moves towards raising the Tigers closer to an even playing field with the teams that have won championships. So the moves he has made with team culture, analytics and the farm system are the most impressive to this point.
I like the fresh perspective and strategic timing that Al has brought to the job. Despite how much we liked Dave Dombrowski throughout the years, when you haven’t reached your goal in 14 years, it’s time to try new ideas.
Unlike Dave, Al is addressing both the short-term and long-term viability of the team. Internally, the organization hasn’t changed in decades. Dombrowski made no moves outside of the roster to strengthen the Tigers.
Now we have new farm system management, an analytics department and a Tigers’ Way manual being developed – all announced in the first couple months of his new job. But also the new attention to strengthening the farm system and putting measures in place that will allow AA and AAA players to keep focused on developing their skills without being sidetracked or set back by being called up too soon.
Al has been much more creative than Dave by seeking out solutions that balance the needs of the team instead of overspending on just 1 or 2 players. He jumped into the free agent market early and got Zimmermann for a song before the market could set itself higher. He’s allocated money wisely for the most part.
He’s given more thought to creating depth in the roster which will give the Tigers more options and flexibility during the coming season.
2. What concern do you have about what Al has done, or not done, in this off-season?
Man, I hate to say it, but everyone is expecting it so I won’t hold back. Avila better have a plan. I hope he has seen something we didn’t see in Brad Ausmus.
It wasn’t until very late in the game, like hours, that it looked like there was a chance he would retain Ausmus. I would say the majority of fans felt Ausmus had a role in the downfall of this team. Adversity was not handled well. There are great managers out there who still find a way to win even when things look dire. But Brad was not an example of one of them.
From a roster standpoint, we are going to have to trust the instincts of Avila’s staff that Mike Pelfrey was the best direction to go with the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation. The optimists in the crowd, who tend to approve every move the Tigers make, always describe pitchers who tend to struggle as “innings eaters.”
We can only hope Pelfrey’s stock is trending upward and he “eats innings” while winning, or we may have to tap into the bucket of rookies if things don’t work out.
Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is Al’s move to retain Brad as manager which was shocking to most fans and the media. Avila has already shown he’s his own man so I’ve got to believe this move was done for reasons that have nothing to do with Ausmus himself. I think Al is crafty like a fox and doesn’t show his hand until he absolutely needs to so I’m giving him a temporary stay of execution on this one – but not much later than May if things start to head south.
The signing of Mike Pelfrey was a puzzler and I’m curious to see how his rationale pays off. My first thought was that Pelfrey would be an innings eater, which the Tigers desperately need, but alas, his stats show he’s not.
And the outfield remains a concern but I don’t think the full chapter has been written about it yet as it appears that Al is still trying to shore it up. His communications with other free agents and teams shows he realizes this remains a weak spot but he just may not be able to get what he wants due to budget and trade chip constraints.
And finally, I will once again beat the drum about a significant rethink about the entire medical, fitness, nutritional and injury prevention department.
Injuries, both in frequency and significance, have been rising while a staff that dates back to Dave’s days in Miami has been in charge. Maybe this will be addressed once the flurry of free agent signings and contract extensions has concluded.