The Tigers announced that they have parted ways with executive vice president and general manager Al Avila, effective immediately, per a press release from the team. Sam Menzin, vice president and assistant general manager, will continue as the day-to-day contact for the team, per the release. The club’s chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch says that he will oversee the search for Avila’s replacement.
“Once I decided to make a change, I sat down with Al and thanked him for his nearly 22 years of service to our organization,” Ilitch says in the press release. “Al’s loyalty and dedication has served as an example to all during his time as a leader in our baseball operations department. I will oversee the search process for our next baseball operations leader, in collaboration with several members of our baseball and business operations executive teams.”
Avila is also quoted in the release: “For nearly 22 years, I have given my heart and soul to this franchise, and I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, along with Chris, for the opportunity and treating me and my family as their own,” he says. “We’ve celebrated successes and enjoyed great moments, and I’m proud to have worked with so many talented people in baseball operations and throughout the organization. I’ll cherish our friendships and the successes we all celebrated together. To Tigers fans, you’re the best and you deserve a winner. I wish the results would have been better this season but know there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years.”
Avila, 64, has been the club’s general manager for a few years now, taking over in late 2015 when Dave Dombrowski departed. The club has effectively been in a deep rebuild for the entirety of his tenure, registering a winning percentage below .400 for four straight seasons from 2017 to 2020. They showed some signs of promise last year and then acted aggressively this winter, hoping to return to contention this season. However, they’ve instead suffered a dismal campaign, compounded by various injuries, resulting in a club sporting a record of 43-68, ahead of only the A’s among American League teams. With the rebuild struggling to bear fruit, it seems the club has decided to change course and will begin looking for a new front office arrangement for the upcoming offseason.
Though Avila’s been the key front office person in Detroit for seven years now, his time with the club actually goes back much farther. He was first hired in 2002, having already accrued a decade of experience in baseball, first with the Marlins and then the Pirates. His first role with the Tigers was assistant general manager and vice president, until his promotion, which made him the first Cuban-born general manager in baseball history.
When he took over as general manager in August of 2015, the rebuild had essentially already begun, as the club traded David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria prior to the trade deadline, while Dombrowski was still at the helm. The club managed to put up a winning record in 2016 but was dismal in the seasons after that. They bottomed out in 2019, going 47-114 for a winning percentage of just .292.
Of course, one benefit of poor seasons is the ability to restock the farm system, with the Tigers having a number of high profile first-round draft picks in recent years. Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung have been the club’s first-round picks since Avila took over, with both Mize and Torkelson having been selected first overall.
With some of that group reaching the majors in recent years, the club had a decent showing in 2021. Their 77-85 record was much more palatable than previous seasons, leading the team to believe it was time to act aggressively and be done with the tanking process. The Tigers followed through by spending big, giving a $140M contract to Javier Baez, $77M to Eduardo Rodriguez, $13M to Andrew Chafin and $5.5M to Michael Pineda. The club also turned to the trade market, acquiring Tucker Barnhart from the Reds and Austin Meadows from the Rays.
Unfortunately, all of those moves have failed to work out for various reasons, which only compounded other issues on the roster. The mercurial Baez is hitting .220/.262/.372 on the season for a wRC+ of 77. Rodriguez has only made eight starts for the team due to injuries and personal issues. Chafin has pitched well but he can opt-out of the second year of his deal, which he seems likely to do. Pineda has only made ten starts due to injuries and has a 5.27 ERA on the year. Barnhart has hit .198/.258/.228 for a wRC+ of 41, while Meadows has only played 36 games due to various injuries.
In addition to the struggles of the new additions, the club’s core pieces also failed to deliver in different ways. Former first overall pick Spencer Torkelson made the Opening Day roster but struggled enough to get optioned down to the minors last month. Riley Greene missed the start of the season due to injury and has hit at a below-average level since joining the team. Matt Manning has been limited to just four starts on the year due to injuries, while Mize made just two appearances before Tommy John surgery ended his season.
Not all of that can be placed at Avila’s feet, of course, certainly not the injuries. Still, after years and years of agonizing rebuilding, the club and its fans were surely hoping for more signs of good things to come over the horizon and have found little to none of it this year.
Ilitch and the Tigers will now try to find a new leader to guide the team into its next stage. Given the club’s struggles this year, the organization will be looking ahead to another strong draft position next summer, in order to add to the talent youngsters who, despite their struggles in 2022, could still be key players in seasons to come. There’s also another important pivot point coming up over the horizon, as the last guaranteed season of Miguel Cabrera’s massive contract is 2023, which will free up both a roster spot and plenty of payroll space. The person who decides how to handle those situations in the future will be determined in the months to come.