Mensching: Avila's offseason moves failing to pan out

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News
The Tigers season was a manic ride to say the least.

After the Tigers signed Justin Upton in January, GM Al Avila appeared to have finished one of the best offseasons in baseball.

The lineup looked strong. The rotation was better. The bullpen was much improved. He managed to find a couple of bargain deals and all but swindled the Yankees.

Sure, not everyone agreed with every move Avila made. Some like adding Mike Pelfrey to the rotation, others didn’t. Some found a purpose for Mike Aviles, others couldn’t.

But on the whole, the roster looked much improved from the way it ended 2015.

Nearly a quarter way into the season, with the losses piling up and the manager well on his way to being fired by the end of the year, the shine is off. 
If you had to judge Avila’s decisions way too early, you’d judge him harshly.

Brad Ausmus

OK, so technically the decision to bring the team’s manager back for a third year happened before the end of the 2015 season. At the time, it left a lot of people questioning the wisdom of it.

Why not go in a new direction in a new year?

"The most important time is, when things are going bad and the (expletive) hits the fan, let's just say, OK, now let's see what these guys are made of," Avila said last September.

"(Ausmus) has shown me that he is calm, cool and collected and has continued the course, continued working through all kinds of stupid (expletive) that's been going out there."

Unfortunately, the Tigers lost 11 out of 12 games before Sunday’s win, continue to make poor choices on the base paths, have taken steps backwards on the mound, and struggle at the plate.

Wojo: Tigers win but limp home with change in the air

Meanwhile Ausmus has shown growth with his in-game strategy, but still inexplicably puts his pitchers in positions to fail and leaves his best batters on the bench during key moments late in games.

It now seems a matter of when Ausmus is fired, not if. Whether any of it is his fault is another question entirely.

Mike Pelfrey

Avila called this a scout signing rather than a stats signing when everyone tilted their head sideways in exasperation.

You could toy around with the idea it might work. Give Pelfrey a better infield than he had in Minnesota, get him a little healthier, and see what happens.

What happened is that the scouts look pretty bad.

Pelfrey started with four straight losses and gave up 16 runs before mercifully picking up a no decision after giving up five more. The next start after that he gave up another five.

The Tigers have lost six of his seven starts.

Avila should probably listen to his stats guys more.

Justin Upton

Justin Upton’s got more strikeouts than Justin Verlander — 60-50. By the rules of this game, all you can say is signing Upton was a huge mistake.
He’s hitting .216 and his on-base percentage would make for a bad batting average.

His defensive in left field could be called an adventure, and the situation is so bad in center field he’s been forced to patrol up the middle.

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Still, if you’re looking for one grade that can flip from bad to good by the end of the year, Upton’s track record the past five seasons is too good to bet against.

The bullpen

Grading a bullpen is a fool’s errand. A few appearances into the year by Francisco Rodriguez and he was already deemed a failure. He’s allowed runs just twice since Opening Day.

It’s a little more uncertain after that. Mark Lowe has been awful his past few appearances. So has Justin Wilson.

So two-thirds of the offseason bullpen renaissance have picked a bad time to fall back to earth.

If they struggle the whole year, it’s possible almost the entirety of Avila’s offseason deals will have turned out poorly.

That’s probably not going to happen, but right now it’s hard to totally disqualify the idea.

Jordan Zimmermann

Finally, a deal that’s looked really good right from the start.

Avila picked up Zimmermann relatively inexpensively — just $110 million over five years. And when you compare him to $200 million men like Zack Greinke and David Price, Zimmermann’s looking like a steal.

Zimmermann opened his Tigers career with more than 24 scoreless innings and enters Monday’s game with an AL-best 1.50 ERA.

Compare that the Price’s 6.00 in Boston or Greinke’s 5.26 in Arizona.

To be fair, Price has pitched far better than his results, and Greinke’s FIP (fielding independent pitching stat) is about equal to Zimmermann’s.

Still, Zimmermann’s the bargain among the three even by that standard. A great job by Avila there.

Adding it all up

It’s pretty harsh to judge an offseason by the first 40 games or so of several multi-season contracts. If you do that, you’re going to get a lot of things wrong.

Still, there are reasons for concern here. Avila’s mindset may have been right on a few of these deals, but the potential is there for trouble.

We’ll see if Avila’s thought process pays off better down the line

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.