By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we here at Totally Tigers addressed Al Avila’s statement about the team getting “younger and leaner” from a variety of viewpoints. On Friday, I identified the potential reasons why the Tigers may be taking this path. If you didn’t catch it then (there is no good excuse, btw), here it is:

In the first installment of this series, the Tigers’ tendency to be behind the times, coupled with MLB’s oldest combination of owner/GMs/coaches, was discussed as one reason why the Tigers have been unable to adapt successfully to today’s game especially as it is played in October. And certainly, the stars who are now in their 30’s with their long-term expensive contracts is also weighing heavily on Al Avila and ownership. Everyone remembers what happened to the Phillies.

But in reality, there is rarely one reason that inspires a team to change it up. It is usually for multiple reasons. And while the first two explanations are valid, there are also 2 other reasons that deserve equal consideration – and both have to do with the Ilitch family.

It has always been my preference to avoid talk of an owner’s illness out of respect. However, the increasing chatter within the media about Mike Ilitch’s serious health issues has pushed this topic to a point where we need to acknowledge it.

Mr. I was present at the signing of Jordan Zimmermann but despite his push for a star leftfielder, he was noticeably absent at Justin Upton’s press conference.

Shortly thereafter, the Tigers issued a press release indicating that both Mike and Marian Ilitch had made it official that their son, Chris, would be next in line to take over the reins. Mr. I has been seen only once this year and was absent for the official team photo this year.

The Tigers now no longer use Mike’s first name in any of their statements, but only use the generic “Mr. Ilitch.”

Increasingly, members of the media are saying their sources indicate that Chris is now in charge. Several recently point to 2013 when Chris secretly ran the Tigers while his father was seriously incapacitated. He has been identified as the reason for the trade of Doug Fister.

If you did not read an earlier blog with the information, Dave Dombrowski went after a bona fide closer to add to the team back after the Tigers lost to Boston in the ‘13 playoffs. His choice was Joe Nathan but Chris refused to OK the signing unless Dave was able to make some payroll cuts. The day after Fister was traded, Nathan was signed.

Media reports paint the younger Ilitch as someone who is focused on the bottom line. So last week’s statement about the need to cut payroll and trade some expensive contracts fits his m.o. It certainly doesn’t sound like Mr. I or even Al Avila. GMs never ask for budget reductions, which makes their jobs much more challenging.

But is Chris ordering this just because he is fiscally conservative or is it due to payroll exceeding revenue for many years now? Is it because the Tigers are mimicking the unsustainable habits of a major market team instead of the market they really inhabit? Is he concerned about some of the big contracts to players in their 30’s turning into financial albatrosses that will hamstring the team for years?  Probably all of the above. But there is also another reason.

Stories abound that outside of Mike, the rest of the Ilitch family is more fond of the Red Wings, than the Tigers. And conveniently, their hockey team is getting ready to move into a shiny new arena next year. Could Chris be getting the team prepared for a sale?

It makes sense to get finances in order. To get payroll down to a manageable level. To show a new potential owner that the team is not trending down, but is taking the steps necessary to return to viability without too much down time. And you do that by getting “younger and leaner.”

We won’t know the extent of the changes until late January 2017 at the earliest. Will there be a surgical extraction or two? Or will Avila be forced to trade away multiple pieces – important pieces – or even star pieces? That will tell us much more about the intent of the owner and the direction of the team.

And if you think about it, this conceivably could be a very good thing. Just not for 2017.


  1. Thank goodness for your last 4 words Holly. This late edition of TT almost sent me packing for bed with a sure headache and crying my heart out fearing The Big Motown Meltdown!


  2. Water cooler talk among former players at the fantasy camp I attended reinforces the abounding stories. Apparently Marian Illitch was most vocal in her objection to buying the team in the first place. Mike’s love of baseball prevailed. That said I’d be shocked it they sold the team.


  3. Is there any way to know how long it might take a team to “return to viability” after a process like this? Beside being focused on the bottom line, what else is known about Chris? If the team is sold, what would the transition to new ownership look/feel like?


    • Helen, I can’t believe Holly did not respond to your questions. Perhaps she is enjoying her Sunday afternoon off. 🙂 That said, I will give it a shot for her. “Good questions Helen. Watch for these questions to be addressed in a future blog”. I know I look forward to her and Kurt’s takes on what you mention.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t care which Ilitch ordered “younger and leaner” for next year. I agree with Holly that this may be a good move overall. However, I don’t like how Avila made such a public pronouncement. It can destroy team morale as players wait for the axe.


    • I agree concerning Avila going public. How is the art of the deal helped by doing that? How is Team Chemistry advanced? Maybe they just wanted to lay it all out and let the fans get the wailing out of the way ASAP. Doesn’t make sense to me.


    • There could also be a benefit to announcing that the team is open to all trades. The flip side to showing teams you’re in the trade market is that the “price” for a player/players could be driven up by hidden competition among teams. Shrewd GM’s keep trade details close to the vest and wait for the best offer.


  5. If the Tigers are sold, I hope a person, not a corporation, buys them. Preferably a “Michigan person,” as the Tigers have historically been owned by “Michigan people.” With the exception of John Fetzer, who was born in Indiana but built his wealth and businesses here in Michigan


  6. With massive payroll commitments in Verlander, Cabrera and VMart, if the Tigers cut payroll they will inevitably be playing some guys who cannot contribute to a top tier team. For example, there is nothing resembling a first-rate second baseman in the organization should they dump Kinsler’s salary.


  7. The success of low-budget franchises like Kansas City, Cleveland and the post-Madoff Mets must tempt owners to think they can win that way. But those franchises have much better scouting, minor league player development, medical and fitness, and analytics infrastructures than the Tigers.


    • Does the fact that even though Detroit is a mid-market city like Kansas City and Cleveland, Detroit has a team for each of the 4 major sports? Is the Ilitch move to possibly sell the Tigers reflective of having all 4 major sports teams and less resources to spend or support for any one of them?


  8. For God’s sake, will you folks stop talking about the Tigers getting younger and leaner when Gene Lamont is still trolling the dugout.


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