By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
So maybe this is going to take longer than we think. Maybe Al Avila’s plan to shed payroll is a longer and more complicated process than we realized. And maybe it will mean the Tigers prospects for success in 2017 may be entirely different.
Our writers’ answers to the following question have not been shared with each other until today. And the reason, as always, is so the readers have the best shot at getting different perspectives on the same topic.
Does Al Avila’s latest news move the Tigers from competitive to contenders in ’17?
Whether this “latest news” is actually new or even “news” is really the question. It’s more about the message being corrected and manipulated than it is of a reassessment of the team’s ability.
If anything, the Tigers have taken a step backwards for 2017. The players are each a year older, Cameron Maybin – the sparkplug – is gone and there is no one even close to filling the CF position. We are also hearing about lingering issues to 2 pitchers with Zimmermann still experiencing pain in his neck, receiving multiple shots to help alleviate it and not even ready for months of physical therapy. And Shane Greene reports that he still is feeling some numbness in his fingers when he throws.
So, no, going forward, this team as it is constituted now, is weaker and less predictable than it was in 2016. They are a good team but not good enough. However, this could change as the hot stove season takes shape and more signings take place.
But if we return to Avila’s statements, it’s really more about jump-starting two things: trades and ticket sales.
Whether or not he meant to indicate the Tigers were tearing down, much of the public understood it as such and that’s where the problem starts. Many teams assumed a “sell-off” and therefore expected some great deals on Tiger players. They ended up sorely disappointed when Avila didn’t back down from a substantial asking price and then the phones stopped ringing.
This was followed by Avila’s clarification about the Tigers being fine not trading anyone and going forward with their core group. It was an attempt to reset the level of expectations in hopes that more teams will become desperate as time and options dwindle – and find that certain Tigers would fit their needs.
But this is also the crucial month of ticket sales – especially season tickets. And the timing was perfect. One day after Avila’s clarification, the Tigers started a push for TigerFest tickets and ticket packages as holiday gifts, which have been rumored to be lagging.
But did you also notice how the local newspapers stopped using “Ilitch family members” and started using “Mr. I” again? A one-two punch to help alleviate fans’ concerns about the team’s chances and to show stability within ownership. A coincidence? I think not.
We are going to have to follow this process one day at a time. The ultimate goal for this team is to reduce payroll. But the smart thing is to get as much value as possible in return for some of their biggest stars. So it looks like what the Tigers are finding is that what they desire is not necessarily what teams are willing to give up. But that’s not a bad thing.
Those same teams will listen more intently if they are challenging for a playoff spot, which will be at the trade deadline. The Tigers are in a strangely unique position. They are a team with a ton of talent that just hasn’t translated into a championship.
We are all desperately looking for signs of which way the Tigers will take this team this year. But please, don’t listen with any kind of seriousness to the fraudulent messages of sports talk radio.
One talk show host was so incensed with the Tigers missing out on Adam Eaton that he accused them of not having a plan. It was his opinion that the Nationals had given up nothing for Eaton; exposing ignorance before knowing the full truth.
What the White Sox got was another handful of top shelf prospects, something the Tigers could not and would not give up. So Adam Eaton isn’t a Tiger because they are holding onto prospects now, not giving them away. A plan they have communicated more than once.
So the bottom line is they are valuing their team, at every level and I believe that to be a good thing. And as long as they still have the core of this team while they look to make changes, they will always have a shot to contend.
I tell my wife all the time – if you shop, you will buy. If you don’t shop, then you won’t buy. So, anything is a possibility from now until spring training. And if all stays the same with the Tiger core when the season starts, yes, they are a contender, maybe all the way through July.