In the midst of yet another disappointing season, the Detroit Tigers finally fired vice president and general manager Al Avila on Wednesday. Avila had been with the organization for more than 20 years, and had been the general manager since 2015. In those seven years, Detroit had one winning season and never made the playoffs. Frankly, he should have been fired long ago.
The Tigers are arguably MLB‘s biggest disappointment this season. With the signings of Javy Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez, a good group of young starting pitchers, plus the debuts of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, Detroit was expected to compete this season. Instead, the Tigers are 43-69 and occupy the basement of the AL Central. Meanwhile, Torkelson has been demoted to the minors after major struggles, fellow former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize underwent Tommy John surgery and Baez has a woeful .631 OPS in 97 games.
Avila hasn’t been a favorite of Tigers fans for a while. He’s the same general manager who traded away stars Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez in 2017. Both players have continued to play at an All-Star level over the past five seasons, while one of the six players the Tigers received for them did anything noteworthy for the franchise.
Some of Avila’s top draft picks (Torkelson, Mize, Greene) wound up topping prospect lists and tantalizing fans, none of them have made a big impact in the major leagues yet. They all have potential, but it hasn’t borne fruit at the highest level.
Coming into the season, it was playoffs or bust for the Tigers. They had a ton of hype behind them as the next young team ready to make a jump. In A.J. Hinch they have a manager with a championship pedigree, they gave a face-of-the-franchise contract to Baez and stabilized the rotation by adding Rodriguez. Plus they still have Miguel Cabrera around to provide leadership to the young guys. Precisely none of that has worked out as planned.
Avila should have been let go after the Tigers followed up back-to-back 64-98 seasons by going 47-114 in 2019. That was the time to pull the trigger. Instead they let him hang on and continue making disastrous decisions for the franchise. Baez’s contract looks like an albatross, and the farm system only has one top 100 prospect (righty Jackson Jobe) after Torkelson and Greene’s call-ups.
The good news for Avila’s successor is that things could turn around under a new vision. Torkelson and Greene still have loads of potential, and if Mize gets healthy he could right the ship. Jobe is a legit top 25 prospect, 25-year-old lefty Tarik Skubal has talent, as does 24-year-old righty Matt Manning. Plus, Hinch is still an outstanding manager. There is some solid clay to work with.
Avila was allowed to stay far too long. Now the Tigers need new blood and a new vision. And they have to find it quickly. The franchise hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2014 and hasn’t won a playoff game in nearly nine years.
Tigers fans deserve better. Hopefully they get it soon.