IN THE LINE OF FIRE

Holly Bio PicBy:  Holly Horning

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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14 thoughts on “IN THE LINE OF FIRE

  1. “Hope is not a strategy. Teams that are serious about winning have a solid plan, not prayer beads”.
    Holly, perhaps the most insightfiul critique of the state of the Tigers that I’ve read this year. And to think we could have Michael Bourn patrolling CF for the same $2M we’re going to pay for a backup catcher who just happens to be the GM’s son. DISGRACEFUL!

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  2. Nice take on trading Maybin in order to save a better player. That’s some “Unique Analysis”. I’ve read the Indians took in an additional $40 million due to their “extended season”. If this is true, Chris should looking at the POTENTIAL bottom line.

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  3. But maybe they do have a solid plan in keeping their top-ranked offense and solid starting pitching intact, sorting out CF and some line-up puzzles during Spring Training. Absent injuries, and with an improvement in Brads managing, the Tigers could have a very good year with the team they have.

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  4. There’s another choice. Maybe something is in the works that will make it all make more sense. We’ll know lots more by April fools day.

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  5. I’m sorry but if there was no sense of urgency the past three seasons, why would there be one now? Al should’ve kept quiet on “younger and leaner.” He may have succeeded in getting huge hauls in return for trading top talent and going though a faster and easier rebuilding process.

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  6. The Tigers have out spent (and won because of it) the rest of their division rivals by 50%+ thru the years. The problem isn’t for ownership to spend more, the issue is for those who they’ve spent millions on to perform up to the standards they are being paid. At some point a business needs to stop losing money and time has come for tigers.

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  7. Greetings from Grapefruit Land! Prayer beads are out and polished! Trading Maybin and creating the gaping hole (no pun intended) in CF with no replacement plan illustrates how disjointed the Tigers have become. Say what you want, this would NOT be happening on a DD watch. AA is simply a figurehead puppet and happy collecting a fat paycheck IMO.

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  8. Simple reality is that a full season from Nick or JD, any production at all from Upton in the 1st half or Zim in the 2nd, getting by the numbers and getting anything at all from VMart late Jul to Aug and the Tigers were in the playoffs and a lot of this is moot. The team they currently have can contend and will as long as there is reasonable health.

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  9. My take: Illitch wanted younger and leaner. Couldn’t get there. Traded Maybin, the straw that stirred the drink. Without that straw, the Tigers will be sluggish and makes it easier to trade stars at the deadline. Only J-Up can become that straw this year.

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  10. Holly and Doug great comments. Also wonder if they unloaded maybin thinking the off season would go differently and they could fix that in time. Time that hasn’t so far worked out…Yet. this in conjunction with Holly’s speculation.

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  11. Unproven rookies and older players likely will be more durable, productive and a lot less pricey than the $9 million CF who was traded. He’s a singles hitter who, in ten years, appeared in more than 100 games only three times. Make way for the unproven.

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  12. With today’s death of Mike Ilitch, I’m sure Opus 131’s wishes will come true. The estate taxes will be enormous, hundreds of millions, similar to what the Davidson family faced after Bill Davidson died and they had to sell the Pistons to ease the estate tax burden.

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