Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.
That’s the most positive way to explain the position the Tigers are in as a franchise and the missteps that have led them to this day.
Every baseball franchise, regardless of the method they use to get their team in a position to contend, has a window of opportunity.
But there is a timeframe. Once you have built what you think is a team that can win it, your opportunities are not endless. Of course, teams try to make smart decisions with their roster every season to sustain and expand that window of opportunity. And some have been very successful in lengthening that timeframe, having success and winning championships along the way.
On the other hand, some teams are not smart with their window. But for the purposes of a Tiger baseball discussion, I am not talking about an open window. I am talking about that critical time in a franchise’s history when that window closes. The steps they take to rebound and open that window again are just as critical as when they are contending.
We have reached that time with the Tigers.
The window closed the day Dave Dombrowski was forced to unload David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria. On that day, Mike Ilitch’s active pursuit of a championship ended. The white flag began its way up the pole for a Mike Ilitch-owned franchise when he could no longer make that big splash at a trade deadline.
When Mike could no longer order trades for more big-time stars because he had nothing in his farm left to trade, the fun was gone. Take away his ability to get more toys and, well, you have taken his ball and gone home.
So, OK. Fine. The fun was done. The run for a championship was over. Mike could no longer co-exist with Dave Dombrowski. Fine, after 14 years, business relationships can wear thin. But how you choose to change course will determine your future success. And the choices were wrong and they snowballed.
When you tear down a building and planning begins to build again, do you make use of the pile of rubble? Do you rummage through the pile and pick up pieces you think are still good enough? This is effectively what the Tigers have done.
We know what should have been done to start over. But what happened instead? Well, let’s review.
Instead of doing an educated search for an accomplished GM, Mike Ilitch chose to promote Al Avila, who daily proves to be ill-equipped for the position.
Instead of putting his stamp on the team by hiring his own manager, Avila kept Brad Ausmus, a manager who proved time and again, to be ill-equipped for the position.
Instead of pulling back the reins and studying what would be at risk, Mike ordered more money to be spent on a downward trending Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton; a signing that would render the ability to keep JD Martinez virtually impossible.
Instead of taking the same opportunity to replace Ausmus every year after, Avila waited 4 years to finally pull the trigger.
Instead of hiring a more competent GM heading into a season where his team would begin a rebuild, Chris Ilitch, after assuming ownership of the Tigers after his father’s death, did nothing.
Instead of realizing the window was shut, Avila and the Tigers decided they would see if they had one last shot to win in 2017. A silly and fruitless decision designed to keep fan interest? Maybe. Who knows.
All these steps led us to the trade deadline of 2017, where the Tigers were stuck with Al Avila to go out and get strong value for players they could not possibly keep, knowing that contending had ended.
It doesn’t all come down to whom the Tigers received in their jettison of high-profile ex-Tigers. It is about a troubling and revealing development.
Al Avila never seems to deal from a position of strength. He makes it easy for teams to take the upper hand in negotiations. He is the opposite of Dave Dombrowski, who owned the negotiations and always seemed to win the deal. We now have a GM other teams can take advantage of and I believe that they are.
So, the fun is gone. Mostly because of what has transpired since Dombrowski walked out the door. Being confident in the people at the top heading into a rebuild can make the process interesting and in some cases fun to watch, i.e. the Cubs. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon made success possible and watching the momentum build was fascinating even from the perspective of another baseball town.
But in Detroit, we are stuck having to question every move the Tigers make, because there is no trust. Who among you disagrees? Who doesn’t believe that this rebuild has begun wrong and will continue to go wrong?
This is all on Chris Ilitch now to manage. And the initial impressions are that he is hurting more than he is helping.
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