By: Holly Horning
When Mike Ilitch gave Al Avila a 5-year contract to take over the GM position, he explained that it would take Al that amount of time in order to show real results.
But 3 years later, we still don’t know that much about where the team is headed. Almost 2 years ago, Al made the first of many statements about starting to rebuild the Tigers but nothing was done until late last year. For 2018, we’re still seeing a lot of the old familiar faces playing for the Tigers.
For fans, the issues have become the lack of a general timeline, the absence of speed in significant rebuilding and the hesitancy to bring up the youngsters and give them substantial playing time.
Interviews with Avila have been done recently but not one single local writer (surprise!) asked him anything about an anticipated timeline. But you knew they wouldn’t….
At one point, over a year ago, Al had mentioned a 3-year timeline. Then, at the end of 2017, he changed it to 5 years. Now, he’s not sayin’ anything.
At the rate he’s going, we may be looking at a decade. Or longer.
But the bottom line is that none of what we’re seeing – or not seeing – is particularly comforting or inspiring.
There is a big black hole of mystery and it’s located at 2100 Woodward Avenue.
In all fairness, the GM does the bidding of the owner and is expected to protect him and take all the hits. He’s always supposed to make the owner look good.
He also works with the parameters the owner gives him. Budget, payroll, resources, talent. If a GM is not bringing in certain experts that most of the other MLB teams have, it may not be due to him. It may be due to the owner clutching his wallet closely to his chest.
In Avila’s case, we don’t know what his relationship is with Chris Ilitch. We’ve read that Al was particularly close with Mr. I, who treated him like a son. But just because Mike and Chris shared a last name doesn’t mean that the son will be anything like his dad.
There have been numerous articles about the Ilitch finances. Questions about how they structured the trust the Tigers were put in, how impactful estate taxes would be and the amount of all their loans. Questions about how they would finance all their new projects. Questions about how many of the Ilitch relatives were pushing Chris to sell the team so they could receive their inheritances sooner rather than later.
And the move to cut large chunks of payroll and load the farm system may also be signs that Chris is looking to right the books and prepare the team for a sale. Or it could be part of the rebuilding strategy.
There are signs that the Ilitch family is exploring the sale of the team. They have been meeting with the experts who make their living helping owners buy and sell professional sports teams. Some of them have been seen meeting with Chris. The same ones who helped his dad buy the Tigers.
One of them is Steve Greenberg, son of Hank, who is considered the king of putting together sports sales as well as being the former Deputy Commissioner of MLB. Ironically, cameras caught him last year at Comerica and filmed him by his father’s statue. No one remarked or asked him why he was wearing a pinstripe suit and carrying a briefcase. To a ball game.
And there are also rumors that Chris is exploring the potential of a regional sports broadcasting network. This would allow him to retain, at least in part, a share of the Tigers’ tv revenue even after selling the team. We already have seen him consolidate the local sports business dealings. Of course, owning the Tigers and Red Wings and adding the Pistons to Little Caesar’s Arena. Conveniently, Pistons’ fans will now also be paying Ilitch Holdings to use their facilities, hospitality services and food.
It’s one-stop shopping at its finest.
But now, let’s return to the question of the Tigers’ rebuild and the relationship between owner and GM. Truthfully, Al Avila and his entire Front Office probably don’t know if Chris is planning on selling the team. They may have hints but chances are that the conversations and backroom meetings are being kept from them.
And it would be easy for an owner to sync his directions to Al that would both support rebuilding and the selling of the team. It’s just that Chris’ vision may not go beyond the next 2 years.
If this is indeed his goal, then hiring a new GM, bringing in fresh talent and expanding, say, the training and conditioning programs, won’t matter. Leave all of that for a new owner to address. It costs money.
And this may be why Ilitch’s announcement about adding improvements to Comerica did not provide a date – even a ballpark estimate. (Sorry, it was there and I just had to say it.)
And why he said that the Tigers hadn’t yet discussed adding statues of Trammell and Morris.
Because it all costs money.
If you’re going to sell the team, you won’t be making any further investments. You won’t be discussing any rebuild in earnest. You won’t be firing and hiring a new GM, other executives, a new manager, new coaches – or even new broadcasters. You’re going to maintain the status quo because extra effort means an additional expenditure.
If you’re going to sell the team, you’re going to put the team’s activities on auto-pilot. You’re going to let the new owner worry about completing that rebuild.
And you may not push your GM to speed up the rebuilding process as a result. Because you – and your GM – won’t be around in a couple of years.
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