DIGGING A DEEPER HOLE

By:  Holly Horning

Remember the days when we had a GM who frustrated us with his constant dodges and non-answer answers? A guy who could either be a world-class poker player or a spy capable of not revealing any information despite being tortured.

The same guy who always made moves without fans seeing it coming. The guy who had his strategy and never shared it outside of a small, select group of people. There was, unfortunately, the Fister trade – but also the Fielder-for-Kinsler one, too. And now that he’s moved to Boston, he’s doing the same thing. No one even had a clue that the Red Sox were in on Chris Sale until Dave signed him.

Who knew that we would actually welcome those days once again.

We now have what initially appears to be the anti-Dave. A GM with a track record of just over a year but an increasingly predictable pattern of not knowing when to keep quiet. Thank goodness the man doesn’t have a Twitter account.

It all started within 2 months of assuming his job with his statements about keeping Brad Ausmus as manager.

But the floodgates opened this off-season in what appears – at least to most of the world – as laying all of his cards on the table for fans, owners, GMs and every Front Office and scout to see.

Maybe Al is just a very direct and upfront person. Maybe he was being considerate of his players’ feelings by giving them a head’s up. All admirable qualities but if so, they have now become detrimental in how this team moves forward.

And that’s the problem when you have a communication style that creates confusion, disappointment and fails to achieve the desired results.

It started with Al’s declaring that every single one of his players was available for sale. Every one. He said the team was going to get “younger and leaner” and that it might take time to achieve the desired results. He also said that he “hoped” the Tigers would be competitive this year. Ohhh, the PR, Marketing and Ticket Sales departments are not happy campers.

Many in the press, as well as the fans, took his words to indicate that there was going to be a fire sale. Words that had to be clarified shortly thereafter given the firestorm that broke out.

And then confusion officially entered the picture when Avila couldn’t complete a single deal after the Maybin option/quasi-transaction despite fielding multiple phone calls from other GMs.

It’s now very likely that the entire team will stick together for 2017 knowing that they are all expendable and may potentially scatter to other teams if the season doesn’t go well. Not a great attitude or motivating force to instill with your players.

But despite all the words about trades and getting younger and leaner, Al then signs a 30-year-old catcher who has seen better days. His son. His earlier words now contradict his actions as seen by many.

But whether Alex Avila was the best player to fill the team’s needs is not the point. In this case, perception becomes reality and a significant number of fans either saw flagrant nepotism or a rerun of mediocrity behind the plate. Maybe not the best signing to make when it’s your only one and the fans are only too familiar with the name and track record. And it’s the intangible issues such as these that need to be considered as real and as viable as the official stats.

In summary, Al has not done himself any favors by speaking too much and too openly. No other GM this off-season has divulged their strategy for 2017 as completely and detailed as Avila. Al has been digging a hole for himself since September 2015 and it’s only getting deeper.

While I have a firm and fast rule about waiting at least 1 – 1.5 years before openly judging a manager or GM, I have to admit that Avila’s first impression doesn’t inspire my confidence in his abilities at the moment.

Maybe he needs to remember the story that Dave Dombrowski told about his first year as GM. A story that involved lessons learned by sharing information with the public and media that came back to bite him. It seems he learned that lesson quite well.

Let’s hope Al heeds this advice very soon. Otherwise he may need to trade in that shovel for a digger.

13 thoughts on “DIGGING A DEEPER HOLE

  1. Indications are that Avila had the assets to be a fine scout and then a good Asst GM. But increasingly in his role as GM he is looking like a prime example of the Peter Principle at work. Illitch bought in and signed him for 5 years. Based on? Maybe Holly can fill us in.

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    • Hi, Nimzovich – It’s been reported that Mr. I and Al have a close relationship, much better than the one Mr. I had with with Dave, and that Mr. I regards Al like a son. As for the 5 years, it was generally regarded as a fair amount of time for a GM to make his mark and for the team to see if goals were met.

      Al was courted by at least 2 other teams for their GM jobs and presumably impressed them. But starting 2 years before Dave left, the Tigers didn’t allow him to interview with any other teams. It would appear that Mr. I saw the writing on the wall with Dave and had already planned on promoting Al as early as 2013. Thanks for keeping the conversation going! – Holly

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      • Interesting, Holly. But if Avila’s relationship with Mr. I is what cements his place on the team, we have to wonder if his position will erode quickly as his mentor fades from the scene.

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  2. Loose lips really do sink ships, don’t they? However, don’t tell the local sports media this. They find Al’s “open communication” refreshing after years of Dave’s tight lips and political-like answers.

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  3. Holly, I respect you withholding judgement for a year or so, but considering the team he inherited, he has not demonstrated good judgement optically or operationally.

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  4. Al could have very easily contacted the players personally and told them everyone was available. Will the attitude in the dugout result in everyone looking to pad their own stats, and heck with the team? At least this scenario would possibly get us out of the Upton deal.

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  5. Al can always give his players a head’s up in private. Also, we won’t know for sure what’s cooking in the off-season until the off-season is over. Lot’s of time left. I do agree the silence is deafening!

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  6. Holly, honestly to you and all the followers of this refreshing new site: I for one have very little confidence that the Tigers organization has any idea as to just what they are doing at present time. What is their vision, if there is one.

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    • With all due respect, other than telling us “We are trying to improve the team” I am not sure they need to share strategies or tactics with us or anyone. Most business negotiations are done in private so the failures aren’t broadcasted.

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  7. As Holly rightfully point out, Al Avila is the one who broadcast to all that every member of the team was available for trade and they were to slash payroll. He then gave away Cameron Maybin, which reinforced that statement. Now you get younger by bringing back your son and sign numerous over thirty free agents to minor league deals.

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    • Very true. I was just responding to your question “what is their vision”? Maybe Al also is just a pawn in the game of life and doesn’t fully understand what is going on around him.

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  8. D.D. was too much like a politician; great at evasion & dodging, his tone often dismissive. A.A. makes a lot of noise, but not a lot of sense. Combine the extremes of these two styles & communication would improve.

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  9. I hope this verbal strategy ends up a glorious headfake that nets a farm system brimming with younger and leaner ball players for championship years to come. If not, we need to demand younger and leaner get applied to the GM position at the end of this season.

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