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Avila on the value of leadership at this stage of the rebuild: 'It can be overstated'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Al Avila

There really is no room for sentimentality in Al Avila’s line of work. This is a guy who traded away his own son, for crying out loud.

So when Avila, the Tigers general manager, was asked Monday night about his decision to not tender contract offers to veterans James McCann and Alex Wilson, he answered forthrightly, with hardly a trace of emotion.

“It’s hard, just from a personal perspective,” he said. “You get to know these guys very well and you get to like them. But it’s no different than the guys in the past that we traded — Alex (Avila), (Justin) Verlander, J.D. (Martinez).

“But there are decisions that have to be made and at the end of the day you have to move on. And we will continue to make tough decisions in order to turn this thing around here.”

Both McCann and Wilson were integral members of the team’s leadership council. At some point, Avila and the baseball operations staff had to weigh the value of their leadership, on a team in the early stages of a full rebuild, against the cost to retain them.

They were eligible for arbitration and, at most, it would have cost the Tigers $6.5 million to re-sign both. Most likely, both players would have taken less than their arbitration value to stay. The Tigers already have spent $8.25 million on free agent pitchers Matt Moore and Tyson Ross. And they will likely spend another $7-10 million on one or two free agent middle infielders.

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“You always want good strong leadership in your clubhouse,” he said. “We are going to have to have other guys step up. Other guys have to be prepared. It’s just like, if you are running a company and you have a guy in charge of something, you better have another guy coming up behind him, because the guy in charge now might move on.

“It’s no different in a clubhouse.”

Here, though, was the kicker:

“I think in our situation right now, that leadership part can be overstated,” he said. “There is value to it, but we just have to weigh everything out.”

In other words, getting the payroll in line, accumulating young talent and restocking the farm system is priority one for the Tigers now. They will worry about clubhouse leadership later.

Rule 5 decision

The Tigers have two open spots on their 40-man roster. One of them, presumably, is for the free agent shortstop they are trying to find. The other, presumably, is for a Rule 5 draft pick. The Tigers have the fifth pick in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday.

But Avila said that wasn’t set in stone.

“I don’t know if we are going to pick one or not,” he said. “We are still in discussion on that.”

The Tigers drafted outfielder Victor Reyes in last year’s Rule 5 draft and were pleased with the results. There are intriguing prospects available this year, too. Namely shortstop Richie Martin (Oakland), and right-handed pitchers Riley Ferrell (Houston) and Junior Fernandez (St. Louis).

Taking a relief pitcher in the Rule 5 draft is problematic, though, Avila said. Relievers Drew VerHagen, Buck Farmer and Louis Coleman are out of minor-league options. And if they draft a Rule 5-reliever, he can't be optioned out. So, it restricts roster movement. 

Avila said he and his staff were in the process of identifying their top five prospects for consideration with the fifth pick on Thursday. 

"I don't know if we are five-deep yet," he said. "If we can't get five deep, and the guys we like are gone, we won't pick."

Catchers mending

While Avila said the club was still seeking another veteran catcher, the plan is to go into the season with the relatively inexperienced tandem of Grayson Greiner and John Hicks. Both right-handed hitters and combined, they have caught just 83 games in the big leagues.

They are both also coming off injuries. Greiner had surgery to repair his right wrist, which was injured in his first winter ball game in the Dominican Republic. Hicks’ season ended in August last year after he had core muscle surgery.

“Both are injury-free,” Avila said. “We expect both to be full-bore heading into spring training.”

The insurance policy, right now, is veteran Bobby Wilson, who was signed to a minor-league contract.

“Bobby Wilson is a good comfort zone for us,” Avila said. “But we would like to get one more catcher into our system.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire pushed hard for veteran Chris Herrmann, whom he managed in Minnesota and coached in Arizona. Herrmann bats left handed and can also play first base and corner outfield. But, as of late Monday, the Tigers believed Herrmann had reached an agreement with another team.

No signing has been finalized, though.

Twitter: @cmccosky