By: Kurt Snyder
I love to touch on overused phrases in sports; 5-tool players for one. Another is “serviceable.” Players probably cringe when they are described as “serviceable.” Not many talented players in baseball are labeled this way.
But today I want to talk about the qualifier, “on paper.” That’s right, on paper. That convenient phrase that everyone likes to use to cover themselves; to help guard them if their theories or opinions don’t quite turn out the way they had envisioned.
For kicks and giggles, I googled the phrase. This is what I found:
On paper definition – meaning, what is on paper: judging something by how it has been planned rather than how it really works in practice.
(Figuratively) based on debatable inference; in theory.
On paper – according to the assumed facts
Interesting? No not really, which is why I want to quit using the term. If we are going to impact our audience, “on paper” has to leave the vocabulary. But not quite yet. I am going to use it, not to cover myself, but to reinforce the progress the organization has made.
The Tigers are being described as much improved “on paper.” And it’s true. The team, compared to where it was on July 31st, has experienced a serious upgrade.
Dave Dombrowski was right. When all was lost at the trade deadline and the team was not in a position to make noise in the playoffs, or make them at all, he made it clear that the team was not going to “rebuild.”
The trading of Price, Soria and Cespedes would be the first step in what Dombrowski called a “reboot.” It seemed absurd at the time. There were so many issues, so many cracks, too much to fix. A rebuild was inevitable. This was going to take time.
And after Dombrowski was not retained, Al Avila was pushed in front of the press as the new GM. It wasn’t pretty. He was uncomfortable. He was nervous. And the Ilitch family was nowhere to be found. There was only Al, describing to the media why he was the best man for the job.
It was odd, for lack of a better term. He was interviewing for a job he already had. Things did not look good. It was clear, it seemed, that Al’s name next to the GM title needed to be written in pencil.
He wasn’t that polished executive with whom we had become comfortable. Dave was slick. But with slick came a lot of nothing for the press. He showed his cards very little and danced around issues and questions masterfully. That was his style and it was a very successful style for a long time in Detroit.
Even when he was continually questioned about how weak the team continued to be in the bullpen, Dave had an answer for why he felt his moves were the right ones. He never became rattled, at least not behind the microphone.
So Avila had a challenge. We all thought he needed to put his stamp on the organization. Few knew what was to come. We all just assumed that the stamp needed to come with a decision to fire Ausmus. It was the logical first move. Well, Brad stayed and fans all over town quickly made up their minds that Al was not GM material.
But this guy, Mr. Al Avila, had what he didn’t appear to have. He had a plan. His plan as we have watched it unfold has been very calculated and has begun to properly address all levels of the organization. This plan, surely on paper somewhere, has been nothing short of impressive. And he is hard at work checking the boxes.
To see this team come together has been more than exciting heading into spring training. The starting rotation was a shambles. Check the box. It ain’t anymore. The bullpen was a disaster. Check the box. It ain’t anymore. They also went from little depth to quite a bit, with more options and more versatility. Check the box.
And finally, in typical Ilitch style, this “recruiting class” has star quality once again. There was no box to check for adding a player like Justin Upton to the outfield. It wasn’t on Al’s list. Thank goodness it was on Mike’s.
The search for holes will take a while now. They are there but they are few. “On paper,” the team looks tremendous. And in this case, being tremendous on paper, already in 2016, is leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought the team would be sitting heading into March.
We should all be very encouraged by what Avila and Ilitch have done since July 31st. We have seen a roster turn from ruins to contenders. Amazingly, once again, the Tigers have a shot.
Internetslang.com has a unique definition for “paper.” It means money. And the Tigers, once again, have spent a whole lot of it. But they have spent it wisely, without selling their future. On paper, this team IS money.