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.