Mensching: Tigers mostly stand pat, and that’s OK

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

The Tigers’ offseason gets an “F,” at least according to ESPN’s Jim Bowden. The former general manager of the Reds and Expos wrote that “the bottom line is Detroit didn’t get better this offseason — not for the present or the future.”

It’s easy to see why he’d say so. I’ve written about a similar sentiment myself. If you’re not moving forward, somebody else is. The Tigers did nothing to help their present or their future. How can you see that as anything but a failure?

The team has a payroll that will only cause it greater problems in the future. The franchise has a farm system devoid of much A-list talent, or, according to most prospect watchers, much of any talent at all.

Something has to give. There is young talent, but young talent that is relatively inexpensive today will only cost more if the players continue to improve.

Tigers GM Al Avila finds himself in an even more difficult position because not only does he have these issues to deal with, but he also has to do with with little wiggle room on his current payroll and he still has to find a way to get fans out to the ballpark. The Tigers’ season average fell by more than 7,000 fans per game from 2013 to 2016.

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This reminds you a bit of the conundrum former GM Dave Dombrowski was faced with a few years back. After making the playoffs in 2006, and adding stars in 2007 and 2008, the Tigers failed to make the playoffs in 2009 after blowing a three-game lead with four games to go in the season. Payroll was high, several contracts that appeared to be mistakes were locked in, and outlooks were dismal.

At the time other ESPN personalities were writing of the inevitable trade of Detroit’s star players, and the fire sale to come. Curtis Granderson was traded to the Yankees in a three-way trade that brought some young pitcher named Max Scherzer, a washed-up starter named Phil Coke, and a prospect by the name of Austin Jackson back to Detroit. This seemed to confirm all prior assumptions.

We know better now. After a disastrous 2010, Detroit went on to win four straight division titles and appeared in a World Series. Scherzer won a Cy Young. Jackson held down center field. And Phil Coke’s iconic glove slam after sweeping the Yankees will forever be a favorite moment in fans’ minds.

So where am I going with this? Two ways, really.

The first is to say that Avila was there by Dombrowski’s side for the trade that helped change the future of the organization, and he kept his ear to the phone listening to see if that opportunity would arise again.

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It didn’t. You only get one chance to get this right. If Avila messes up on a trade of a star player, he doesn’t get to go back to a prior save. He has to be certain he’s getting the best value for his club. That didn’t arise. You can’t blame him for not forcing it just to make a move.

The second direction is to note that just because this offseason was a quiet one, all was not lost.

Projections have the Tigers pretty close to where they were last year. They have neither a guarantee of making the playoffs, nor should you view them as entering the season already out of contention. They need a little bit of good luck, but who doesn’t?

Avila and manager Brad Ausmus can assess the team as the season goes on, check the market, and decide by the end of July whether to try to push some chips in or cash out.

By the measure of doing something dramatic, yes the Tigers’ offseason failed to live up to those expectations.

But in reality, they really aren’t in much different position than they were last year and have plenty of time to change directions.

Giving this offseason a failing grade was wholly unwarranted.

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