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Detroit Tigers: Al Avila delivers Tour de Force in setting low expectations

Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /
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Al Avila gave some answers to the Detroit Tigers’ off-season plans to the press yesterday.

Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila had his first press availability of the off-season and did his level best to pour cold water on the hopes of as many fans as possible for the upcoming year. It was an amazing Tour de Force of Avila’s skills in setting low expectations.

He also showed undeniable signs of being Patient Zero for an affliction that hopefully can be contained in Detroit…” Jordan Zimmermann Syndrome”.

The event was innocent enough and very admirable. The Tigers in partnership with The Player’s Alliance passed out food, PPE, and baseball gear to 2000 families. Let’s not totally lose sight of the giving that did occur.

The feel-good aspect of the day however took a turn when Avila couldn’t avoid the microphones nearby and had to address questions about his club’s off-season plans and tactics.

What followed was a sad, yet fairly predictable, recitation of why the Tigers can’t really try to compete but will try to do the minimum to give the appearance of making efforts to improve. COVID concerns and revenue losses were cited as reasons for extreme caution even though teams who will ultimately spend on premium talent this winter face the exact same problems. However, not all of them have MLB’s 4th wealthiest owner to combat some of these issues.

A “wide net” has been cast for the Tigers to search high and low for talent according to the veteran front-office leader. Unfortunately, this net has a hole in it the size of former Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann’s ill-fated contract.

MLB.com’s Jason Beck had this quote:

Avila: “I look at it as being disciplined this year and resisting, let’s say, an urge to really try to step up. The last thing we want to do is go out and spend some money that we’re trying to get rid of next year or the year after that. From the very beginning, we’ve been saying we want this to be a long-term success, not a short-term fix. And so, to go in here right now and make a big splash and then all of a sudden it doesn’t work out and then you’re trying to dump the salaries the following year, that’s not what we’re looking at. We’re looking at long-term sustainability.”

Avila noted the last thing they want is a large contract they’ll need to unload in a year that sets them back. First and foremost the quote puts into question the confidence he has in himself and his pro-personnel minions to identify the best targets who won’t flame out immediately. This is the Zimmermann Syndrome starting to grow. Big contracts going south seems to be the worry. “A contract that isn’t offered can’t go bad” would be a true statement but it would eliminate an avenue toward rapid improvement. Operating out of fear of failure seems like a dead-end road.

Avila talked about optimism and discipline mixing in plenty of other platitudinous GM-speak. But in the end, his message seemed to be about making sure the media and the Tiger faithful know his club won’t be competing for the best talent this off-season. David Dombrowski has come back to MLB to occupy that lane. Detroit will look for reasonable bargains. “Opportunities” that make sense for the Tigers…if it indeed makes sense to sign guys who help you win 68 games for one season instead of being a building block of a contender for four to six years.

The discussion quickly turned to CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop possibly coming back. This means a 23-35 club coming back and little else. We just saw what a club centered around those signings looks like. Then talk of bringing in a pitcher or two seemed like a discussion on bringing in the next versions Mike Pelfrey or Brad Penny.

We could dissect it all line by line. But it’s not worth it. Chris Ilitch used Avila as his vessel yesterday to set expectations low. The Tigers are going to invest at least one more season in staving off a complete culture of losing by trying to limit the loss instead of making moves to win. It’s more about developing the kids and pointing to a renewed farm system than assembling a winning mix of veterans and ascending youth.

The Tigers are willing to accept failure as long as it’s a cheap failure and not an expensive failure. On Friday, mere hours before Avila’s quotes went public, this space asked Chris Ilitch to pick a lane for the off-season. They did. They chose the Slow Lane.

Only time will tell if they are actually just laying in the weeds and plan to dominate the second tier of the free-agent market to snatch up legitimate big-league talent. If they are just playing dead before pouncing it’s an amazing camouflage job. It would seem a better bet they intend to just sign some baseball riff-raff and shoot for 4th place while selling the hope of their abundant prospect pool.

The expectations for 2021 are now set appropriately low…right where Al Avila, speaking for Chris Ilitch, wanted them.

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