Bob Wojnowski and Chris McCosky review the Tigers' 114-loss season and project the starting lineup for the 2020 season. The Detroit News
San Diego — These are not fun days for Tigers’ general manager Al Avila. It’s almost like he’s being pulled apart.
Tugging him one way is the fan base, the media, even a couple of his top aides (namely manager Ron Gardenhire and special assistant Jim Leyland) who want him to jump into the free agent/trade market and upgrade the talent around the diamond.
He would love nothing more to acquiesce, believe that.
But tugging him more forcefully the other way is his steadfast belief in the rebuilding plan and his faith in the process, however painful.
“We are trying to put together a better team, for sure,” Avila said Wednesday night. “That’s why we’re actively seeking major league free agents and minor league free agents. None of us want to go through last year again. So we are making an effort to put a better effort on the field.”
“The temptation of going out there and doing something faster is not going to help us in the long run,” he said. “We’re trying to get better and add players to help our younger players develop, give them more protection in the lineup and more leadership in the clubhouse.
“It’s all part of the process. You can’t go from the bottom to the top that quickly.”
So, as teams were packing up and getting ready to check out of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, on a day when an outfielder and a couple of pitchers they had kicked the tires on were acquired by other teams, the Tigers were likely to leave without making any moves other than drafting a player in the Rule 5 draft Thursday.
“Everybody wants the Winter Meetings to be the climax,” he said. “We’ve seen over the years that sometimes there’s big trades and big signings, but sometimes the climax comes in January or February. For us, there wasn’t the urgency to do something here and overpay for something.
“I think patience is a virtue right now. We need to try to be measured. We’re taking baby steps. We are going to try to make this team better, but with patience — not by panicking. We’re not there yet.”
That’s not to say the Tigers weren’t working all angles this week. They have methodically created player rankings at several positions — catcher, pitcher, middle infield, first base and corner outfield — separate lists developed by the analytics team and the scouting team. They have talked to teams and agents about a multitude of deals.
That none were consummated this week doesn’t mean they’ve hit a roadblock or that they will have to settle for players who weren’t on their list.
“Even though we may walk away from here without having anybody signed doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of things in the works,” Avila said. “It could happen in a couple of weeks or a couple of months. There are still plenty of players out there.”
Avila confirmed the Tigers had talks with the Rangers about outfielder Nomar Mazara, who ended up being traded to the White Sox. The Tigers also had at least cursory interest in three starting pitchers who were signed Wednesday — Kevin Gausman ($9 million by the Giants), Michael Wacha ($3 million, plus another $7 million in incentives by the Mets) and Tanner Roark (two years and $24 million by the Blue Jays).
“You have to stay the course,” Avila said. “We lose our patience, believe me. We want a guy in A-ball to be in Triple-A right now. A young kid like (outfield prospect) Parker Meadows, we’d prefer him to do so well that we could push him along. That’s not having patience and not being realistic.”
Overpaying for stop-gap veteran players is also not having patience or being realistic, Avila said.
“We still want to give younger players an opportunity to play and to continue to develop them,” he said. “We can’t lose sight of where we are as an organization or our focus. We do want to win more games and bring in more experienced players and we will take some chances.
“We’re looking at some things where we’d probably take some chances on some bounce-back guys.”
Avila knows this isn’t what the fan base wants to hear, but it is the reality.
“You want to make everybody happy, but the process is what it is and we’ve got to see it through,” he said. “I have to stay focused and not let a lot of the negative vibes affect what I am thinking.”