Tigers GM Al Avila told team reporters in his end-of-year press conference today that the organization will be looking to shake up its approach to roster building this winter. While Avila was largely and understandably vague on specifics, he made clear that “changes are coming” to how Detroit does business, as Evan Woodberry of MLive.com reports on Twitter.
The central issue, Avila suggested, is to avoid the ongoing reliance on high-priced veterans, as Jason Beck of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). “We want to get younger,” he said. “We want to get leaner. We want to run the organization without having to go over our means. We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time.”
The notion that the Detroit organization has been spending “above its means” is certainly notable. Unquestionably, the club — under the leadership of owner Mike Ilitch — has committed huge sums of money to acquire and retain numerous talented players at market prices. That includes not only large extensions for players like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, but also major free agent outlays for Prince Fielder (who was later traded for Ian Kinsler), Anibal Sanchez, Victor Martinez, and — most recently — Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann.
Many of those big contracts were handed out while the Tigers’ baseball operations were being run by Dave Dombrowski, who Avila replaced last summer. But he oversaw the signings of Upton and Zimmermann last offseason, along with acquisitions of veterans Mike Pelfrey, Francisco Rodriguez, Cameron Maybin, and Mark Lowe. And the front office reportedly talked down Ilitch from a budget-busting offer to slugger Chris Davis. While the club improved to an 86-75 record, it failed to make the postseason for the second consecutive season despite an Opening Day payroll of nearly $200MM.
Ultimately, Avila was not willing to label the team’s upcoming approach as a rebuilding effort, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports (Twitter links). And he did not specifically chart a course for how the team will accomplish the stated aim of infusing youth and trimming costs. But he did suggest that some tweaks could be coming, and that they may require some changed expectations for a team that has fashioned itself a perennial contender. “It’s not going to be easy,” said Avila. “But it has to be done.”
The overall thrust of the comments appears to indicate that Detroit may look to reallocate resources as soon as the coming winter. Avila left the impression that the organization won’t be looking to add impact free agents, as Woodberry tweets. And the GM made clear that payroll won’t go up, as Fenech tweets. He also didn’t promise a decline, but seemingly suggested as much. “Usually it will be the opposite,” he said. It’s not immediately clear whether the Tigers could pursue trades of quality veterans in a bid to add younger, controllable talent, but that certainly seems to be a natural course to pursue given Avila’s statements.
Detroit may not pursue a dramatic tear-down, but the precise strategic direction remains to be seen. Avila did note that the Tigers will likely need to add a reserve catcher to pair with James McCann, suggesting his son — Alex Avila — could be considered for a return, as Fenech tweets. The organization has yet to decide on club options over Maybin ($9MM with a $1MM buyout) and Rodriguez ($6MM with a $2MM buyout), the veteran executive added and Fenech tweeted.