Lakeland, Fla. – If you sit in Al Avila’s chair, you can’t afford to be overly sentimental. Decisions have to be made that impact people’s lives and livelihoods, and at times it takes a dispassionate, bottom-line approach.
Case in point: The Tigers needed to create a spot on the 40-man roster, presumably, as things stand now, to make room for utility man Niko Goodrum – who was a non-roster invitee to spring training.
Avila and his staff decided to put veteran left-hander Blaine Hardy on waivers after they re-assigned him to minor-league camp Thursday. Hardy cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo on Sunday.
“Very simple,” Avila said when asked about the decision to take Hardy off the roster. “We needed a roster spot to add a player. … He was the guy we picked.”
Avila said the fact that Hardy still has a minor-league option was irrelevant. As was, apparently, the fact that Hardy, when healthy, has been an effective option out of the bullpen the last four seasons (9-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 159 innings).
“Twenty-nine teams passed on him,” Avila said, matter-of-factly.
Hardy was two days away from having his $795,000 salary guaranteed for 2018. Instead, he will make $192,000 on a split contract.
“By getting him through waivers, he is going to be there in the minor leagues,” Avila said. “We talked to him. We told him to keep working. He understood the process. When the need arises, as it probably will at some point, he’s been through this before. It’s not the first time he’s been outrighted.
“With him down there at Toledo, we have a little bit more depth.”
Avila said he is very close to finalizing the Opening Day roster, but he won’t do so until after the club’s workout in Detroit Wednesday. If outfielder and Rule 5 draftee Victor Reyes, outfielder JaCoby Jones and Goodrum have indeed made the club – it won’t be made official until then.
“You want to wait to see what happens,” Avila said. “We still have two (exhibition) games to go. Injuries can occur. Injuries can occur in the workout. You always wait until just before the first game.”
Avila and his lieutenants – David Chadd and Scott Bream – will continue to scour the waiver wire and club’s final cuts looking for possible upgrades.
“This is the time of year you see a lot of movement, just like with us and Hardy,” Avila said. “People are trying to create roster spots to add guys. Our job is, anybody who likes a guy, you recommend him and call him in. So far that hasn’t happened.
“Also, guys who were invited to Major-League camp, sometimes they get released, just like we released Alexi Amarista (on Saturday). There may be somebody out there that we like better. You look at that all the way through to the end.”
Asked about the likelihood of signing somebody in the 11th hour, Avila said, “I wouldn’t say it’s probable – but it’s possible.”
Avila did have high praise for 23-year-old Reyes, a player who has yet to play above Double-A, who because of his Rule 5 status must remain on the active roster all season or else be offered back to the Diamondbacks.
“We’re very encouraged with Reyes,” he said. “He’s not giving us any reason to think he can’t handle it. We’re pretty excited about it, actually.”
Avila, Bream and others watched Reyes put on a show during batting practice Sunday. He was hitting moonshots into the Margaritaville Patio beyond the right-field wall at Publix Field.
“It was Scott Bream who made the point – we’ve never seen a BP like that,” Avila said. “It was pretty impressive. He was hitting bombs and he’s not really a power guy at this point. He’s 23. But with that body and he has a pretty good swing, you feel it’s going to come.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Avila also gave the impression that manager Ron Gardenhire may have talked him into keeping Jones as the fourth outfielder. Avila has said in the past that his preference would be to let Jones get steady work at Triple-A as opposed to sitting on the bench in Detroit.
“I don’t necessarily think there is a right way,” Avila said. “Gardy seems to have a good idea how to do this – the same with Reyes. We’ll see how it works.”
Gardenhire reiterated Sunday that his philosophy is that all 25 guys made the club, all 25 are invested in helping the team win and thus, all 25 will play.
“I don’t want to start out a season thinking, ‘Boy, I hope I don’t screw this kid up,’” Gardenhire said. “He made the team for a reason. He’s a very good baseball player. He can play at the big-league level and he’s here to help us.
“We’ll get him plenty of action out there in a lot of different ways. We’ll start the season with him being a part of our 25 best players and we’ll just go from there.”
Jones has nearly 2,000 minor-league bats. Avila agrees it’s time to see what he can do at the big-league level.
“If he hits, he’s set up to be a perennial all-star; he’s got that type of ability,” Avila said. “If he doesn’t hit, then he’s an extra outfielder. If you keep him up here and you can’t get him enough at-bats and enough action, there is no reason to say he can’t do enough to continue his development.
“And, quite frankly, you might protect him from failure a little bit. There is a lot that goes into a decision like this.”