CBS Sports: Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila on thin ice

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila watches spring training.
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila watches spring training. /

Just a few days ago, national baseball reporter Jon Paul Morosi went on a Detroit radio station and said the Detroit Tigers rebuild is behind schedule, but Al Avila’s job probably isn’t in immediate jeopardy.

"“Do you want to say it’s a five-year plan? Well, if it’s five years, then the middle of next year you’re supposed to be good, and I’m not candidly seeing that happen yet…If you’re looking for signs…you’re a Tiger fan looking for a sign next year you can start thinking about the playoffs, I don’t believe we’ve seen that yet.” -Jon Morosi on 97.1 The Ticket"

And then earlier today CBS Sports scribe R.J. Anderson published a scathing critique of the Al Avila administration, saying the rebuild has failed:

"Avila has had nearly six years to enact his vision, almost as long as the Colorado Rockies allowed Jeff Bridich before he resigned in April. At some point, likely in the near future, someone will have to answer for the Tigers’ failure to launch; that someone tends to be the general manager."

Anderson’s article allowed him to expound more than Morosi, with ugly details about Detroit’s inability to acquire and develop talent, but both men are making the same argument: this isn’t going to work.

A few passages in Anderson’s piece should be of particular concern to Detroit Tigers fans, as they seem to reinforce some of the most common complaints about Al Avila’s tenure:

"You could blame the Tigers’ amateur scouting department for not finding good prospects past the first round, but talent evaluators with other teams expressed concerns to CBS Sports about Detroit’s player development arm."

"Every team misses on moves, but once a pattern of constant underperformance emerges, it becomes hard to shake the feeling that something is wrong on a systemic level.That last part is pivotal, and explains why officials with other clubs openly wondered to CBS Sports about how much longer the Tigers can stick with Avila."

These critiques aren’t new to us at Motor City Bengals, because we’ve made most of them ourselves. We looked at the disastrous results of the Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez trades, explained how other teams have improved faster than the Tigers, and taken a deep look at their draft results under Avila.

And while we have celebrated Detroit’s highly ranked farm system, even those pieces mentioned underlying issues:

"Tigers fans may be looking at the most top-heavy farm system of all time. Since 2000 there have been 24 instances of a team landing 5 prospects inside the top-50 on a Baseball America or MLB Pipeline list, and the 2021 Detroit Tigers are the first of those teams with no other prospects inside the top 100."

"If there’s one persistent misconception about the Detroit Tigers, it’s that their farm system is “loaded with arms.” Yes, a plurality of their top prospects (or young big leaguers) are pitchers, but once you get past the top four names, the system is surprisingly barren."

It’s not shocking that a blog hyper-focused on one team would uncover these sorts of issues. But national writers suddenly shining a light on them means Al Avila may actually be in trouble.

The Detroit Tigers have played well over the past week, but they still own the worst record and worst run differential in all of baseball. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have shown impressive flashes, but neither looks poised to make a huge difference any time soon.

The team’s top position prospects are at least a year away from making real contributions, and secondary prospects like Willi Castro, Isaac Paredes, and Daz Cameron are still huge question marks.

It’s hard to envision an on-field scenario that saves Al Avila. The team is exactly where it was four years ago. But Avila’s saving grace may be Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch, who is either extraordinarily patient, truly indifferent about the Tigers, or in denial about the reality in front of him.

None of those options make Detroit Tigers fans feel better.

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