The Detroit Tigers finished the season in the most painful of places: almost in the playoffs.
After finishing in last place in the AL Central in 2015 under Dave Dombrowski, the Detroit Tigers showed improvement in 2016 under first-year general manager Al Avila.
Despite the winning record, the Tigers just could not cross the magic line and make it into October. While many people are quick to blame Brad Ausmus, Al Avila did build some of this team. What can we say about Al Avila’s first year as the general manager?
First, we should look at who Al Avila brought to the Tigers and how those players worked out. Avila sent his son, Alex Avila, packing, and brought in Jarrod Saltalamacchia. After Salty’s .171 batting average, the son, who hit .213 in 169 at-bats, would have actually been a better catcher to hold on to.
Taking Care of the Mound
Avila also brought in two veteran pitchers, Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey. While Zimmermann did have a positive reputation after several successful seasons with the Washington Nationals. However, his injury kept him from fulfilling the 200 innings that Avila was expected to get out of him. Zimm did show some signs of recovery in his last outing against the Braves. So, there’s that.
And then there’s that Pelfrey cat. When his name was announced in the winter, no one was convinced that it was a good move. All season long, Pelfrey pitched as expected. He posted a high ERA and a high WHIP. Avila hired Pelfrey to eat innings, but his injury in the second half prevented that from happening. His inefficiency as a starter was matched by his inefficiency as a bullpen pitcher. Now, the Tigers are stuck with him and an $8 million albatross contract.
On a positive note, Avila made a trade that brought Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit to be the ninth-inning guy. Even though fans will no doubt remember the pain of Rodriguez’s blown save against the Kansas City Royals, Frankie did actually earn 44 saves. This was the second most of any Tigers closer and second most in the 2016 season.
Filling the Outfield
Al Avila also brought the left fielder, Justin Upton, to Detroit. This acquisition received mixed reviews, too. Upton was known as a streaky player and he lived up to his reputation all season. Unfortunately, the strikeout streak lasted much longer than the home run streak. But, if Upton can start the 2017 season with the home run numbers he put up in September, he will bring some fans through the gates of Comerica Park.
He also brought Cameron Maybin back to Detroit. He was also injured for a significant portion of the season. But, when he was in the lineup, he contributed to the score and to the clubhouse.
Grading the GM
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When it comes to Avila’s grade for the 2016 acquisitions, I’d give him a C. He gets high marks for bringing in Maybin, K-Rod, and the late-season version of Justin Upton. He gets an F for Pelfrey and for the April, May, June, and July-version of Upton. I’m giving him a D for the Saltalamacchia signing and he gets a B- for Jordan Zimmermann because he could only pitch for a month. His late-inning bullpen pitchers Wilson and Lowe were D’s, too. I’m averaging all those out to a C for the off-season signings.
And C’s are average. Meh. Nothing special. Could do better.
There is one moment that made Avila look like a winner: the trade deadline. He had several valuable pieces that he could have traded to improve the team, but he didn’t. Instead, he kept the young guys, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Nick Castellanos, James McCann, and the most valuable young guy, Michael Fulmer. For this, I will give him a nice big A.
Since the team improved over the previous season, it is highly likely that Al Avila will not be leaving the Tigers anytime soon. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistakes – especially the Pelfrey goof. A first-year GM is generally given a little room to grow, so expect some better moves for the 2017 season. However, the lack of movable parts and the desire to keep the young guys will limit the transactions that Avila will actually be able to make.