By: Holly Horning
It was bad.
It was really bad.
How bad was it, you ask?
It was so bad that after this past Thursday’s game, the Tigers covered the line score on their big scoreboard with a picture of a Labrador retriever. And I am not making this up.
I guess they lost the picture they had of a skunk. Or maybe it was an attempt to offer therapy for the fans who attended. Puppies always make us feel better.
Yes, the Tigers are in a “rebuild” – the exact method yet to be seen – and we know they are supposed to be bad. They are supposed to lose. They are supposed to lose a lot.
But this past week, we saw their play sink to a whole new level. And I expect that Hyundai will add this experience to its infamous elevator ad. You know, the one in which a couple gets on the elevator to say they need to go car shopping and are told by the elevator operator “Going down – way down!”. The elevator stops at floors for root canals, colonoscopies, music festival bathrooms, vegan potluck dinners, jury duty, airplane middle seats and “the talk.” I fully expect “attending a Tigers game” to be added to the list in the near future.
Forgive my grammar, but there’s only one way to say it.
This team is practicing stupid losing.
And that shouldn’t be acceptable for any team in a rebuild.
Losing is understandable. Stupid losing tells me that the organization simply doesn’t care. It also tells me that they don’t have standards.
It’s been a month in which the team has lost more than twice as many games as they’ve won. Four games out of 14 in which they gave up 15, 13, 11 and 17 runs. And not all of them solely due to pitching woes.
Games filled with sloppy fundamentals. Players leaving the field thinking there were 3 outs, instead of just 2. A lack of viable starting pitchers so severe that they bypassed Toledo and reached all the way down to AA, nabbing a thrower who had just been shellacked days earlier. (He drew the short straw.) A rookie, who is not a pitcher, brought in to pitch the 9th. He’ll be in therapy for awhile…..
And yet, the team refuses to go out and sign another pitcher. If you haven’t heard, there are still a zillion of them yet unsigned. There’s a bargain or two to be had at this point. But it would appear that saving money takes priority over focusing in having a stable season…..
The sound you are now hearing is the padlock being applied to that owner’s wallet.
The list goes on…
Another runner on third sent home to his doom despite seeing that the A’s entire infield had been pulled in. The throw arrived at home plate with more than enough time. In fact, I saw the catcher texting his mom while he awaited the Tigers’ runner in order to apply the tag.
And in a scene out of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, players being DFA’d or sent down in bunches.
Excuse me while I make a quick visit to the ladies room…
The Tigers have been tearing down since Dave Dombrowski traded Cespedes, Price et al. That was 2015. Later that winter, Al Avila announced that the team was going into a rebuild. Almost 4 years later, what do we have to show for it? What, if any, improvements or advancements have we seen?
I can’t think of anything other than the analytics department and the replenishing of warm bodies in the farm system.
That and the payroll being dramatically reduced by a little more than half. (And yes, I’m being snarky….)
If this is a heartfelt rebuild, just how long is it supposed to take? Are we talking years or are we talking decades?
Shouldn’t we be able to point to some improvements in 3.5 years? Players we know are likely to stick? A noticeable difference in how the team now plays? An attention to detail that wasn’t there before now?
Have we seen any improvement on the field? Heck, Ron Gardenhire called out the organization for the lack of uniform play over the winter, which indicated that the Tigers Way manual hasn’t been written or at least finalized. And if it is, then it surely isn’t being taught.
As for Ron, have you noticed that he’s no longer diplomatically pointing fingers at those in the Front Office or even within his own coaching corps who aren’t doing their jobs? Maybe he realizes the futility of it all.
Meanwhile, a pool of promising pitchers is bubbling to the top. But once they get there, where are the other 8 men who are needed to support them? Where are the bats? And once they arrive in Detroit, will their talent be wasted because they won’t have run support?
When Al Avila inherited the GM job, the Ilitches gave him a 5-year contract because they said it would take 5 years for a successful rebuild to be seen. After this year, Avila has 1 more year. I have yet to hear anyone believe that this team will have a noticeable turnaround by then.
For those unhappy with how this ship is being sailed, I don’t see any significant changes to alter course before 2021. Definitely don’t look to Chris Ilitch.
He is the man reported by the media as not wanting to release Brad Ausmus from his last contract year because he didn’t want to pay two managers. For the record, Ausmus was making less than $1 mill per year. Ilitch is also the one who refused to give Dave Dombrowski the money to finally sign a closer (Nathan) until he traded a player (Fister) in order to free up the payroll.
He’s not going to fire Al Avila until his contract is up. And even then, he may not.
Many fans point to how generous his dad was with his wallet. But let’s not forget that after Mr. I bought the Tigers, the team had losing records in their first 12 out of 13 years – while maintaining one of baseball’s lowest payrolls. His reason for starting to spend big may be more accurately tied to his age, mortality and the desire to speed up the process while he would still be able to enjoy it. Chris, on the other hand, is only 53 years old. He’s got time. He’s also got an MBA.
Quite frankly, the best sign that this team is serious about rebuilding may have nothing to do with the farm system and everything to do with the intent to change the mindset and corporate culture.
The Tigers are never to going to get to that higher level with the same group of aged men who have been together as a group for over 25+ years. They have proven to be an insular group that shuts out the new ideas and technology that younger people with different backgrounds bring in.
Most importantly, they favor protecting each other over advancing the team’s development. It is an old-boys network personified. And when you put the needs of your long-term friends above the improvement of your organization, you will never get anywhere.
Almost every other team in MLB has gone out and poached the top talent of the best teams in order to get better and implement new ideas that will up their competitive levels. Except for the Tigers.
So what would put some hope in the hearts of fans? Chris Ilitch demanding change in the Front Office personnel. Al Avila finally showing that he’s in charge and making some long-overdue changes. Don’t you often wonder exactly who is in charge, who is the most influential man in the organization and who is making the decisions? I don’t always believe it is Al.
Time to man up, Mr. Avila.
Given the MLB-worst offensive stats for the second year in a row, a change in hitting coaches would be a good first sign. I mean, just how badly do you have to sink in order to make a hiring change?
Or in the words of the immortal Darryl Rogers, “What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?”
Every team in MLB has signed on to a new way of coaching hitters but the Tigers cling to one whose tenure is over 4 times longer than any other hitting coach. How does a hitting coach, whose team has ranked dead last for 2 years in a row, keep his job for 14 years?
It’s not the only example but it’s the most apparent one. It reminds me of that lawyer joke: What does the release of a coach mean? It’s a good beginning.
And if they don’t make this one simple change?
It doesn’t bode well for the future of baseball in Detroit.
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