If anyone has watched the Tigers closely this season, they could see there is something wrong. Something terribly wrong. For fans, it’s about as hair-pulling as hair-pulling frustration can get. The Tigers, who are considered to have one of the best historic franchises in the city, unlike their lackluster stadium neighbors the Detroit Lions, have high expectations that come with being historic franchise like Detroit is.
When Tigers top prospect Riley Greene went down with a fractured foot that he suffered before the season, there was a knee jerk reaction to fill that void in the outfield. April 4, they traded 23-year-old infielder Isaac Paredes to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Austin Meadows. Instant reactions out of Michigan were that the Tigers won the trade. Meadows was coming off a really good 2021 campaign, where he hit 106 RBIs on 121 hits and knocked 27 dingers. He also provided solid defense, which made him a no-brainer to trade for.
This was a bat the Tigers could plug in right away to produce, and not have to worry about development as much as they do with newcomers Spencer Torkelson, Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, etc. And Meadows’ younger brother Parker Meadows is a year or two away from coming to Detroit. So the signs looked good. Early on, Meadows bat was an impact. He seemed to gel with the team and they were excited about what he brought to the table and the chemistry he had. Once May came around he looked quite different, though.
By mid-May it was reported Meadows had symptoms of vertigo and was immediately put on the IL. On the other side of the Rays trade, Paredes started to take off. His breakout game came on May 18, when he slugged two homers against his former team, which catapulted him to a player to watch this season. Since then, he has hit 11 more homers, 26 RBIs and maintains an impressive .902 OPS to date. Meadows, on the other hand, came back from vertigo and went right back to the IL with an Achilles strain June 28.
Paredes’ success and Meadows’ flame out had suddenly brought the ‘fire GM Al Avila‘ rumors back to life, from the whispers they once were at the start of last season. He was exposed.
Everything from his trades to his draft picks and free agent signings have come into focus now. Since August 4, 2015 when Dave Dombroski was let go, Al Avila had to take over the reins of a team without even a decent farm system. Dombroski gutted it, which is his usual m.o. when he helms a team. Detroit was filled with a roster of overpaid players that weren’t providing anything to the club anymore; their glory days behind them.
The days of postseason runs were over. Their window had closed. Al Avila didn’t waste anytime when he was hired. He knew the farm system had to get the life blood pumped back into it with some talent. From there, his strategy was set: sell the high priced players for prospects, and in free agency take on team friendly contracts that he could turn around as trade bait at the trade deadline. For the draft, start by stocking the system full of talented arms that would fill out Detroit’s future rotation. Later, grab bats.
Here’s a quick snapshot of Avila’s deals and the outcome of them.
Acquired RHP Victor Alacantara from the Angels for OF Cameron Maybin.
Acquired OF Mikie Mahtook from the Rays for cash considerations.
Notable Draft Picks: RHP Matt Manning, RHP Kyle Funkhouser
Notable Signings: RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Mike Pelfrey, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Outcome: None of the traded for players are still with the team. Mahtook flamed out. Alacantara couldn’t get out of the minors and in 2020 he was suspended for 80 games for using performance-enhancing drugs. He’s currently a free agent.
Manning debuted in 2021. He is currently on the IL since the beginning of the 2022 season.
The Zimmermann contract of five years, $110 million was a horrible deal that Detroit didn’t see the benefits from one bit. In those cringeworthy five season he went 25-41 with a 5.63 ERA.
Acquired IF Dawel Lugo, IF Sergio Alcantara and Jose King from the Diamondbacks for OF J.D. Martinez.
Acquired IF Jaeimer Candelario and IF Isaac Paredes from Cubs for LHP Justin Wilson and C Alex Avila.
Acquired RHP Grayson Long and RHP Elvin Rodriguez from Angels for OF Justin Upton.
Acquired RHP Franklin Perez, OF Daz Cameron and C Jake Rogers from Astros for RHP Justin Verlander.
Notable Draft Picks: RHP Alex Faedo
Notable Signings: C Alex Avila, IF Omar Infante
Outcome: Lugo was the supposed prize in the Martinez trade. When he came up to Detroit, his power vanished, lost his feel for hitting and was cut near the end of the 2020 season.
Martinez, however, ended up signing with the Red Sox, after he signed with them in free agency in 2018, and remains one of the best hitters in the American League at 34.
Alcantara was eventually cut in 2021, and King is the only prospect left from that trade with the Diamondbacks. At 23, he has yet to make it to Double-A.
Candelario has shown flashes, but his inconsistency and lack of power has made the trade for him feel subpar at best. Paredes was traded to the Rays and is lighting it up at the moment.
Long went as far as Triple-A and retired from baseball in 2019. This is the first year we get to see Elvin Rodriguez, and in 20.1 innings pitched, he’s struck out 16 and maintains an abysmal 11.51 ERA.
The real crusher here is letting go of one of the faces of the franchise in Verlander. He didn’t even want to go. In Houston, he won his second Cy Young and even a World Series. The pieces the Tigers got back for him have made for one of the worst deals in all of sports. Franklin Perez, the centerpiece of the deal for Detroit, was called “big league ready” and would soon suffer from multiple injuries that have pretty much ruined his career. To date, he isn’t even playing, nor has he made his major league debut. Jake Rogers, while being an excellent defensive catcher, has proved he can’t hit. And Daz Cameron still can’t find his footing in the bigs.
Besides Faedo, most of their draft picks have not made the bigs, nor have provided any real impact when they have made it. For his second round pick, Avila reached on power-hitting outfielder Reynaldo Rivera, who has done nothing but disappointed in the minors.
Acquired RHP Wilkel Hernandez and OF Troy Montgomery from Angels for IF Ian Kinsler.
Acquired IF Willi Castro and RHP Kyle Dowdy from Indians for OF Leonys Martin.
Notable Signings: None.
Outcome: We have yet to see Hernandez, who is 23-years-old and is stuck in Advanced-A. Troy Montgomery has retired.
Willi Castro has shown flashes, but like Candelario, he is very inconsistent. He has also made a position change from shortstop to the outfield.
Acquired RHP Nolan Blackwood & Logan Shore from Athletics for RHP Mike Fiers.
Notable Draft Picks: RHP Casey Mize, OF Parker Meadows, IF/OF Kody Clemens, LHP Tarik Skubal
Notable Signings: RHP Miek Fiers, OF Leonys Martin, OF Victor Reyes, Francisco Liriano
Outcome: At 27, both Blackwood and Shore can’t get out of Triple-A. Disappointed trades aside, the 2018 draft was a big step for Detroit. With the number one pick they selected college star Mize, in the second they took Meadows, and in the third they took Longhorns legend, and Roger Clemens‘ youngest son, Kody Clemens. Mize hasn’t found his footing yet. Skubal, a ninth round pick, has surpassed him in development and is currently the only reliable arm on the staff. Clemens is coming along nice in the bigs, but Meadows has struggled at the plate in Advanced-A West Michigan and now in Double-A Erie.
Acquired RHP Paul Richan and RHP Alex Lange from Cubs for OF Nick Castellanos.
Acquired LHP Joey Wentz and OF Travis Demeritte from Braves for RHP Shane Greene.
Notable Draft Picks: OF Riley Greene, IF Nick Quintana, IF Ryan Kreidler, RHP Beau Brieske
Notable Signings: OF Dustin Peterson, LHP Matt Moore, IF Jordy Mercer, IF Josh Harrison
Outcome: Castellanos helped the Cubs make a big push in the postseason. Afterwards, he joined the Reds for two seasons, where he hit over .300 and knocked in over 100 RBIs. With Bryce Harper out, he is currently the leading hitter in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup.
Alex Lange has proven to be a competent reliever to date. He has a 2.08 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched this season. Last season he was absolutely rocked for 16 earned runs in 35.2 innings pitched and carried a 4.04 ERA.
Wentz had a lot of upside when he joined the Tigers, but has battled injuries since arriving.
Greene is with the club now and has been one of the better young prospects in the Avila-era. Second round pick Quintana was a pick in a long line of failed Avila picks to not succeed. He has since been traded. Brieske flew through the minors and is having a rocky rookie season. He has a knack for giving up the home run ball, leaving fans wondering what kind of pitcher is and will become.
Acquired C Eric Haase for cash considerations.
Acquired IF Zack Short for OF Cameron Maybin
Notable Draft Picks: IF Spencer Torkelson, C Dillon Dingler, IF Colt Keith
Notable Signings: OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Alex Wilson, IF C.J. Cron, C Austin Romine, IF Jonathan Schoop
Outcome: Zack Short made a few appearances for the Tigers, but it was found early on that, like many Detroit prospects, he was an excellent fielder but doesn’t have much of a bat.
Jonathan Schoop showed some promise, but he’s on the backend of his career and is having a rough 2022.
Spencer Torkelson made his debut this season, and while he should probably be demoted to gather his bearings, there isn’t much talent to replace him below, so he’s left in this awkward situation where he’s trying to figure it all out, while fighting through slumps and bad coaching.
Acquired LHP Daniel Norris for RHP Reese Olson.
Notable Draft Picks: RHP Jackson Jobe, RHP Ty Madden, IF Izaac Pacheco
Notable Signings: OF Akil Baddoo, RHP Jose Urena, OF Robbie Grossman, OF Nomar Mazara, C Wilson Ramos
Outcome: Baddoo was a pleasant surprise in 2021. He has since been demoted to Triple-A for lack of hitting.
Grossman has underwhelmed in 2022.
Mazara and Wilson got fans excited when they were signed. Injuries prevented them from playing most of the year. Even when they did play it wasn’t anything special. They were not re-signed in 2022.
Examining Avila’s moves it’s clear that player development and injuries have played a huge part of Detroit’s problems. They aren’t able to tap into players’ potential to a point now that even Detroit’s manager A.J. Hinch is starting to question why. On July 6, he was interviewed on a local morning show 97.1 the Ticket about the stellar success Isaac Paredes has achieved unlocking his power, now that he is a member of the Rays.
Hinch replied, “He’s having a tremendous first half. I think if anything, we always evaluate what we’ve seen in players while they’ve been on our watch, and then when they go somewhere else and what they do. Number one, we knew Isaac Paredes was a good player. Before I got here, how hyped up he was. He’d come up a couple of different times. He had never hit for power. To me, the curiosity is like, ‘What did they (Rays) unlock that allowed him to hit for that full power?”
The interview concluded with Hinch explaining further what questions his own front office and coaching staff could ask, in regard to what has transpired with Paredes.
“I think we have to figure out, was it something as simple as changing his sight line of trying to get him to pull the ball more? I think with our organization, he carved the ball a little bit more, tried to be a good hitter,” Hinch said. “He wanted to hit .300. Wanted to get his OPS in the .800s by getting doubles. He looks like he’s launching to left field way more than I saw here. Even some of the balls last year with us, he’d swing as hard as he could and hit the ball to the warning track. It wasn’t for whatever reason — he didn’t barrel balls and get balls over 100 mph exit velocity, which generally those guys that hit the ball out of the ballpark do.”
The fact that these questions are being raised, brings up many concerning questions in Detroit and their franchise as a whole. It starts with the their owner Chris Illitch.
Recently Illitch, who is also an owner of the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, attended a press conference with Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman to introduce new Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde. Near the end of the presser he was asked about the Tigers.
“I’m very pleased with the progress at the Detroit Red Wings, and I’m very pleased with the progress at the Detroit Tigers, despite a very slow start this season for our team,” Ilitch said. “There’s actually some good progress happening with some of the young guys that have come up and developed, and so on and so forth.”
He sounds tone deaf. Seeing the Tigers were supposed to be making a postseason push this year and are now 35-47 and in fourth place in the AL Central, it’s safe to assume this wasn’t the season Illitch nor Tigers fans had hoped for. Is Illitch being ignorant of the issue that is his GM Al Avila? Where are the results of this long rebuild in the last seven years?
If we want to go a step further, let’s take a look at Avila’s current signings as proof of incompetence and talent evaluation. Instead of signing 2022 offseason free agent Carlos Correa to the contract he wanted, which would’ve paired him with Hinch again, who both won the World Series in 2017, Avila went for the cheaper option in Javier Baez. While Baez has had his moments, he rings the old tune of inconsistency the team has been plagued with since Dave Dombroski’s departure. Presently, Baez is hitting a horrendous .211 and has only driven in 29 RBIs and eight home runs. Not very good for your third hitter in the lineup.
Detroit also needed another pitcher or two this offseason, so instead of doing their due dilligence, they made knee-jerk reactions by signing Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez and Twins backend starter Michael Pineda. Rodriguez was plain terrible in eight starts. He had a 1-3 record with an 4.38 ERA. He went down with an injury, then dismissed himself from the team to deal with personal problems concerning his marriage, and Avila and Hinch have yet to see or hear from him since. Pineda has battled injuries since joining the pitching staff in the spring.
The whole damn thing has been a nightmare.
Now, new and former prospects Tarik Skubal, Spencer Torkelson, Kody Clemens, and Riley Greene have a huge amount of pressure on them to produce with a rudderless and talentless squad around them. There isn’t a foundation for them to grow in at the moment. What made former rebuild clubs like the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves achieve success was laying a foundation for their young prospects to develop and grow on. Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have that here. And with Al Avila in control, he appears to be buying time through what he calls “development”, which at this point in his tenure is very suspect, given his results thus far.