Al Avila, Tigers executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager, talks about today's market, luxury taxes and how they affect trades.
Detroit — There is no more pretense. It’s not a re-tooling. It’s not building a short bridge to the future.
Tigers general manager Al Avila called it exactly what it was on Friday — a rebuilding phase. And he made no bones about what the fans can expect in the next year or so.
“This is an obvious rebuilding move,” he said. “We’re trying to stock our farm system with the best prospects we can acquire. It’s going to be a rough month of September and next year might not be all that pretty either.
“But at some point in the near future, we expect to turn it around.”
The Tigers acquired three of the top 11 prospects in the highly-regarded Houston Astros system in exchange for Justin Verlander at 11:59 Thursday night. Earlier in the day, they acquired a right-handed starting pitcher from the Los Angeles Angels for Justin Upton.
Add those to the previous trades of J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, and it’s very clear the Tigers are beginning a new cycle.
“It’s a sad situation,” Avila said. “We had a good run for close to 10 years. We had some winning years, some post-season runs and a couple of World Series. But, like most things, it’s come to an end.
“It’s a hard thing, but a necessary thing. If we didn’t do this now, it would be impossible to continue to sustain a winning team.”
The Tigers the last two seasons have tried to stay competitive by patching up and adding pieces to an aging roster with $200 million payroll. Avila said as far back as last winter that it was time to change the club’s business model.
“When you have that kind of payroll, you can’t keep adding on,” he said. “You are at $250 million, $300 million — when do you stop? We are going over the luxury tax for the second time and going over a third time is the worst thing you can do.
“Really, there was no choice. The other choice was to keep adding and that would’ve been suicide. We are going to have to suffer through the short-term. But in the long-term, this was necessary.”
Avila would not put a timetable on the turnaround.
“I am 59 years old and I don’t want it to be a 10-year plan,” he joked. “I don’t see that in my vision. I’d rather it be shorter than longer, but we have to do this in a manner that makes sense. Patience is going to be needed, obviously. But we’re going to go about this, in my estimation, in a way that will be acceptable.”
The get-back from both the draft and the trades has been bountiful. Nine of the organization’s top 18 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, have been either drafted or acquired in trades this year.
The three players they got for Verlander are all in the top eight, including right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez, who is now the team’s No. 1 prospect. Outfielder Daz Cameron, son of former big-leaguer Mike Cameron, is ranked No. 6 and catcher Jake Rogers is ranked No. 8.
Right-handed pitcher Grayson Long, acquired for Upton, is ranked No. 15. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario (No. 4), and infielders Isaac Parades (No. 10) and Dawel Lugo (No. 17) were acquired from the Cubs for Wilson and Avila.
That’s encouraging in terms of the future of the organization. It doesn’t do much for those left behind, still trying to find ways to compete for another month.
“As a manager, you want to win games and losing guys like Justin Verlander and Justin Upton and acquiring prospects doesn’t help the big-league club win games,” Brad Ausmus said. “But this is something Al felt long-term was the deal to make.”
Don’t misunderstand. Ausmus understood clearly what direction the front office was veering.
“You could make the argument that the Tigers needed to do something like this,” he said. “It’s a valid argument. Only time will tell if it’s productive or not.”
He was asked how veterans like Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera feel after the club traded away two of its best players.
“I am sure they aren’t excited about the trades,” Ausmus said. “I’m not excited about the trades, not from a winning perspective. I want to win. The players want to win. It’s simple.”
It wasn’t easy for Avila, either, on two levels.
He’s grown personally attached to these players, especially Verlander who he scouted in college, helped sign and watched his meteoric rise. He’s also trade J.D. Martinez, who he’s known since Martinez was a child, and he traded his own son.
“Very difficult,” he said. “When you are talking about a Justin Verlander, you are talking about an icon, one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history. It’s not an easy thing to do. But at the end of the day, it was best for both parties. He gets to go to Houston and help them win a championship. He will be a tremendous asset for them.
“And we get some very fine prospects to help us rebuild and move forward.”