Henning: Avila ready to deal in mission to remake Tigers
Detroit – In so many words, Al Avila confirmed Tuesday what already was known. The Tigers’ trade lines are open. Operators are standing by, with a certain general manager working as chief receptionist.
“Changes are comin’,” Avila said at a mid-day press briefing at Comerica Park.
The goals, as have been clear for the better part of this season, are to make the Tigers, in Avila’s words, “leaner and younger” with long-term health the goal rather than expensive go-for-broke playoff pushes on a par with 2016’s mission.
“We have to be open to anything,” Avila said. “This organization has been working way above its means. It’s put us, frankly, in a situation where we can’t maneuver.”
Avila was careful Tuesday. This, he said, “will not be an overnight process.” He will stick to a master plan the Tigers’ front office has had in place for at least the past year. The team has had a two-year timeframe for making deals and reconstructing a roster that spans 2016 and 2017.
The Tigers would have begun a selloff in July had they not had a playoff shot. They have known privately that deals designed to get more youth and athleticism — with young, hard-throwing pitchers their first wish — might be practical during any of four segments: July of this past year, the 2016 offseason, next July’s trade deadline, and the 2017 offseason.
Two years. A substantial roster reconstruction. With faster players and defenders, high-powered kid arms, and a more reasonable, more flexible, payroll the simultaneous goals.
“We’ll consider things that make sense,” Avila said. “We’ll listen to 29 clubs and how we can start making this club, leaner, younger, and more efficient.
“But it’s not a process where it’s gonna be done in one winter.”
Avila can’t name names for obvious reasons. This is a poker table, the Hot Stove trade mart, and showing cards is the first way to weaken your hand.
But he’ll listen. To anyone, about anybody, with a couple of prime trade pieces looming.
Justin Verlander figures to draw a heavy, potentially irresistible, offer in an autumn and winter when free-agent pitching is light. Verlander can say no to any deal. But it’s a high-percentage wager that any club with resources to take on his contract and hand the Tigers a pretty package would be a high-profile playoff team Verlander might easily, if not enthusiastically, accept.
J.D. Martinez is signed through next year. Avila made clear Tuesday the Tigers aren't wild about a long, expensive extension, which means Martinez is a decent bet to be dealt either this offseason or in July.
Other possibilities exist. But, in a bit of irony that says everything about where the Tigers are in October of 2016, it’s more likely big, established names (Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and even Miguel Cabrera, should a cash-flush franchise bite), would carry “For Sale” signs than young affordable talent, beginning with pitchers Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, and extending to tender everyday players Nick Castellanos and James McCann.
The Tigers went for everything in 2016 because they realistically had no other options. Some of their best people were either hurt last October (Cabrera, Victor Martinez), or coming off big half-seasons (Verlander). The Tigers had spent their paltry stash of blue-chip kids in previous deals and were left with one choice in the mind of owner Mike Ilitch: Go for it.
Ilitch has all but signed on to Avila’s take that a younger, less expensive team will offer the Tigers a better roster that can compete in years ahead and later have the flexibility to add a difference-making piece.
Most of all, he knows speed, defense, and young power arms – commodities in too short of supply the past two years – are the ticket to better times at Comerica Park.
Everyone in the Tigers’ hierarchy seems aligned. Everyone seems to have agreed on the obvious.
All that remains are the swaps, some bound to be big. Be prepared for some drama ahead. Dramatic deals, alongside a refusal to part with draft picks and kid prospects, are the best ways to forge a new and better baseball product in Detroit.