By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
It’s Wednesday and you know what that means? Yeah, neither do we. But we just couldn’t wait until Thursday to tackle another topic.
On this Wednesday, both writers will get a shot at answering a question regarding the acquisition of Justin Upton. Kurt focused on it yesterday, but there is still enough meat on this bone for two.
Let’s see how our writers respond to this question.
Given the Tigers’ reported attempt to trade Justin Upton last season, what does that tell you about Mike Ilitch?
Can you imagine Al Avila going back to Mike Ilitch suggesting they try to deal Justin Upton only a few short months after acquiring him? Of course not.
More than likely, Avila was responding to the first of the new marching orders from Mike’s son, Chris.
Little did we know, the Tigers were already beginning the “trim cycle,” long before Avila told us all last week about the intent to get “younger and leaner.” Dealing Upton during the season would represent attempt #1 in getting leaner.
Maybe they should have thought of that before the deal, before the cat got fatter, but we know who was calling the shots in the spring, and it’s not the one calling the shots now or maybe even during the regular season.
Chris Ilitch has the wheel now and the Tigers doing nothing at the trade deadline supports that notion. Could they have used some more pieces? Sure, but we know now that the last thing they would do is add more weight. The transition had already begun. It just wasn’t announced until this month.
Did they dangle Upton at the trade deadline? Maybe, but that would have really confused a fan base convinced the Tigers had a shot at the post season. So the Tigers let it ride with what they had and nearly pulled it off; threatening but still failing to bust down the door to a Wild Card.
But it’s safe now to reveal the goods; the new plan for the future. And it seems pretty clear that it began with the attempt to deal Upton; a failed attempt but an attempt all the same.
And it’s also pretty clear that Mike Ilitch’s role has been reduced to team treasurer. He is still the guy who will spend the money, will sign the checks. But he’s not going to be quite as busy as he has been in the past.
He’s going to be told what the team is going to do, not the other way around.
Last winter, the reoccurring concern, especially in the social media, was about who was going to fill the vacant LF position. And at Jordan Zimmermann’s signing, Mike Ilitch teased the media and the fans about the potential of opening his wallet even more to fill that need.
That was classic Mr. I and his statement surprised no one. We can assume that Al Avila had his marching orders to sign a “name” or even given the name for that slot, partly to satiate Mike’s hunger for a ring and partly to inspire ticket sales.
The move resembled a similar one by Dave Dombrowski who was forced to sign Prince Fielder and again, another classic Ilitch overpay – despite the same agent as Upton’s brother and inking a deal that was 1-year longer and $60 million more.
But the story from Buster Olney that the Tigers were trying to shop Upton, without success, to other teams during the year, doesn’t resemble any kind of pattern we’ve seen from ownership. Olney insinuates that the move towards dumping his contract was earlier in the season, rather than later.
Upton was being shopped during his horrendous performance at the plate. And that is the worst time to try to get rid of a player. First of all, there will be few, if any takers and lastly, any potential buyers will want a huge discount. And it seems unlikely that Al Avila would be trying to convince ownership to sell a player that soon.
But a sudden change of direction, coupled with a strategy in which there were no viable replacements, is yet another example that Mr. I may no longer be making the decisions. The likely suspect? Chris Ilitch.
As reported elsewhere (except in the Detroit papers), Chris was behind the move that forced Dombrowski to trade Doug Fister in order to clear payroll so he could sign Joe Nathan. He has a history of watching the Tigers’ bottom line and the attempt to trade Upton could likely have been his, too.
This could have been the first move, albeit under the radar, to cut payroll. An attempt to get rid of a player who didn’t tug at the heartstrings of fans. An attempt that potentially would have helped avoid having to trade a beloved player over the winter.
Only one thing is certain – the Tigers will be cutting payroll. And the sudden change of direction is almost always due to someone else being promoted as the decision-maker.