With spring training ready to start in just a couple of days, what has been the biggest story of this off-season so far? No big acquisitions? The most quiet off-season in recent memory? The trading away of popular Cameron Maybin? The only signing being the son of the GM? The announcement that every player would be available for trade? Or the fact that the Tigers were unable to trade anyone?
I say “none of the above.” The biggest story of the season is that the Tigers spent zippo money (trading Maybin and not having to pay his option essentially nullifies the amount spent on signing Alex Avila) and voluntarily created 2 holes in their batting order and CF. They were the only team in MLB this year not to make a significant move of any kind.
The off-season is the time to make your team better. To plug the holes. To find the solutions needed. Especially true for teams who are squarely in the mix like the Tigers. Their offense is still top-ranked and their starting pitching is generally thought to be overall solid.
So what’s the deal? Why aren’t they acting according to past history and the expectations of a team that wants to win?
We knew that payroll has been essentially tapped for several years now. That eventually the piper would have to be paid. But for Al Avila to pass up some very inexpensive guys with solid CF experience doesn’t make sense given the rag-tag bunch that waits in the wings.
Some might say that sometimes not doing anything is the best move, especially if there are slim pickins’ in the trade market. Others may point to the team being better if they are fully healthy. But both of those options are based on hope – and hope is not a strategy. Teams that are serious about winning have a solid plan, not prayer beads.
Which brings us to Al Avila himself. Do we think that Al voluntarily is refusing to make this team better? That he’s not serious about winning? That he’s refusing to plug holes – or doesn’t see them? That he doesn’t want to bring better players on board?
Say what you will about Avila as the GM, but this is clearly not his doing. He is simply following orders from above. The GM takes his cue from ownership about goals, players and money. And he’s taking the hit for it. The GM always takes the hit for the owner.
Dave Dombrowski took the hit for trading Doug Fister, signing Prince Fielder, re-signing VMart to another 4 years and extending both JV and Miggy to set MLB records.
And in Avila’s case, he’s taking the hit for his new boss, who is not Mike Ilitch. The same Mike Ilitch who was generous beyond expectations and always had a star or two signed every year. But is Mike really the one who is saying “no” to even a couple mill? I don’t think so – unless Hell has frozen over and no one told me.
The nitpicking over a simple couple of million has all the earmarks of another Ilitch who did this back in 2013 when he ran the team for the season. The same year Dave Dombrowski was forced to trade Fister so he could sign Joe Nathan. All because he was told that the payroll ceiling had been reached and no more could be spent.
Avila probably found himself in a similar position this year. Maybe he was given a mandate to reduce payroll. Maybe he traded Maybin because not trading him would have forced him to trade a much more valuable player and not get a desirable return. Maybe he was trying to protect the more valuable players and keep the team as intact as possible. Maybe he is trying his best to give this team another chance to win.
And maybe this is why his hands are tied re CF. He can’t spend any money. It would certainly explain why the candidates for the job are a collection of guys in the doghouse, unproven rookies and older players looking for one last shot in the majors.
I don’t think Avila is the bad guy. I do think he’s the one who got tasked with being in the line of fire and holding his tongue about the limits imposed.
So is this simply a payroll issue or is this just part of a bigger picture? Are the Tigers preparing for bigger changes down the road? If you’ve been reading our blogs regularly, you’ll know that things are happening behind the scenes that appear to be transition-related.
But no matter what we think or believe, one thing is certain. A priority has been placed on money being more important than the goal of winning it all. We can only hope that the players understand this and are ready to devote every ounce of energy and determination in getting to October this year before it really is too late.
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