By: Holly Horning
I am on Twitter regularly.
(And you should be, too, if you want more than just our daily blog. We publish mini-blogs, video, stats and the latest breaking news multiple times a day. The link is at the bottom of the page.)
And in following news about the Tigers, what do you think is the most-posted tweet from fans?
“Why does Al Avila still have a job?”
It’s true, folks. I’m not pulling your leg.
The second most popular tweet?
“Why doesn’t Chris Ilitch fire Al Avila?”
Fans who are incredulous that the Tigers still have their same GM despite multiple bad moves and little-to-no progress in the rebuild. Fans puzzled by the owner’s lack of action.
And it’s come to a head lately with 3 big national reports questioning exactly what the Tigers are doing. Or more appropriately, not doing. On Monday alone, an in-depth piece in The Athletic, a discussion by 2 former GMs on the radio and an analysis by several Hall of Fame players on tv.
All three groups agreed upon 3 things:
– They don’t see a concerted effort to field a competitive team by the Tigers this year.
– They don’t see much measurable progress in the rebuild.
– They don’t understand the Tigers’ vision or rationale for rebuilding.
And it doesn’t help that teams who started rebuilding after the Tigers, have now caught up with or passed them. The Royals. Orioles. Giants, Mariners, Rangers. Even the Pirates. All of them have made significant moves to improve their rosters.
But not the Tigers, outside of bringing up a handful of prospects.
They were taken to task in the national media for ignoring this year’s golden opportunity of signing a difference-making tier of free agents for bargain prices. Other rebuilding teams pounced on the players available to give their rebuilding timeline a decided boost.
The Tigers? Refusing to even sign a regular first baseman (MLB’s only team to not have one). Instead, signing Renato Nunez to a minor league contract, hoping he could fill that spot on the cheap.
The Royals were particularly singled out for their great additions. And their roster is only $10 mill more than the Tigers.
Just look at the difference between the two teams. It’s painful.
A year and a half ago, Al Avila was quoted saying it was time to start “building up.” And if your memory is good, you remember back in 2016 that he originally said the team would be competitive again in 2018. That later became 2020. After that? Radio silence until this year.
Now he’s saying that their pitching needs to develop first and that rebuilding requires “patience”.
Newsflash, Al. There’s no more patience. You’ve had almost 7 years now.
Yet, the sad truth is, Chris Ilitch is not going to fire Avila. At least not until this gets much uglier and the voices clamoring for change only get louder.
Contrary to what many may think, Ilitch is not blind to what is going on. He’s not a stupid man. In fact, just the opposite.
There is a method to his madness and it probably does not include making the Tigers, or spending money, a priority.
Just look at how he tried to sneak Avila’s contract extension past us all. Announced late on the Friday afternoon of the July 4th weekend. A press conference scheduled within the hour and an owner AWOL. Only a few local reporters were able to attend which is exactly what the organization wanted. National reporters ask questions.
Even more mysterious is the contract extension with no known expiration date. The only one in MLB.
All done on purpose.
Does this sound like an owner who is proud of his GM?
Of course not.
Avila serves a variety of purposes for Chris Ilitch which is why he’ll remain in the job no matter how many Jordan Zimmermanns he signs or Justin Verlanders he trades away.
Let’s now explore many, but not all, of the reasons his job remains secure:
1. It’s been reported that Mr. I was very close to Al and treated him like a son, preferring him over Dave Dombrowski. There’s a personal relationship between the family and this GM.
2. The Tigers are excessively loyal to their employees. No one gets fired unless things have reached critical mass. And even then, people “leave”, they don’t get “fired.”
3. Covid regulations have complicated the game of baseball. Why make changes when you’re not sure what the next year or two will bring, when you lost money in 2020 and will lose money again in 2021 because attendance is limited?
4. The same theory expressed in #3 can be used with the upcoming CBA and potential shutdown of the game. Why hire a new GM when there may be a lockout for an extended period of time?
5. Al Avila is believed to be one of the lowest paid GMs in MLB. His replacement would undoubtedly want a higher salary, along with a guaranteed multi-year contract.
6. Avila’s mysterious contract is believed to be part of the strategy for the potential sale of the team that got derailed with a suitor’s health issues and Covid’s impact. An open-ended contract is enticing to buyers because they don’t have to pay old and new GM salaries when they take over. And if a sale in the near future is possible, you’re not going to spend more money searching for and paying a GM who may be with you for just another year or two.
7. Any potential GM candidate would want a full plan from the owner outlining his job duties and describing goals, budgets and timelines. Who would take the job if they were told that budgets would be restricted, signings would be minimal and a “rebuild” had no set deadline? Smart candidates don’t buy into the line that budgets and free agents will be available “when the timing is right”.
8. The GM is always the buffer for ownership. He is blamed for almost everything and takes the heat off ownership. If a new GM were to come in, and problems continue, fans then turn their attention to ownership in their search to place the blame. Once that buffer is gone, the spotlight starts to shine on the owner.
9. A new GM would be expected to bring in fresh ideas that include delivering a rebuild in a faster, better way. But rebuilds, like plans for District Detroit, cost money. Does Chris Ilitch really want to spend the money?
Yes, keeping an ineffective GM with a terrible track record doesn’t sound rationale. But remember, there’s always a reason. Or two.
You just won’t be privy to it.
But the reasons, as illogical as they seem, always make sense.
To the owner, that is.
What did you miss on the Totally Tigers Twitter feed yesterday?
– Did you see the Totally Tigers tweet that is blowing up on Twitter?
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