Tigers fire GM Al Avila amid stalled-out rebuild

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·4 min read

More than a half-decade into a rebuild that has no signs of ending soon, the Detroit Tigers have fired executive vice president and general manager Al Avila, the team announced Wednesday.

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Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Sam Menzin will assume the day-to-day duties of the job while the team searches for Avila's replacement.

The move ends a Tigers tenure that goes back to 2002 for Avila, who joined the club as an assistant general manager under Dave Dombrowski. Avila took over the Tigers front office in 2015 after the team let Dombrowski go.

Avila was hardly responsible for the Tigers' descent into last place that year — that occurred under Dombrowski's watch — but the team's struggle to assemble anything resembling a competitive roster in the seven years since eventually led to Avila's firing.

Tigers owner Chris Ilitch's explanation, from the Tigers' announcement:

"I want to re-establish our momentum and progress towards building a winning team and I am driven to find a talented executive to help us do that ... With new baseball operations leadership will come a fresh perspective toward evolving our roster and maximizing our talent to reach our objectives. To be clear, our goals are to build a team that wins on a sustainable basis, qualifies for the playoffs, and ultimately wins the World Series."

Avila's departure comes only eight days after the MLB trade deadline, in which the Tigers made a few minor trades but mostly stood pat.

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Detroit Tigers Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Al Avila looks on during Spring Training workouts at the TigerTown Complex on February 14, 2019 in Lakeland, Florida.  (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Tigers have not thrived under Al Avila. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Tigers' rebuild has not been going well

It is basically an accepted fact in baseball these days that all but the richest (or smartest) teams can expect to go through a rebuilding cycle.

A team will win, then its players will age and leave via free agency, then it will start losing, then it will trade away every player it can, then it will lose even more, then its prospects will arrive, then it will start spending again, then, finally, it will start winning again. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs laid out that blueprint masterfully last decade, and the Tigers seemed to barrel full-steam ahead when they traded franchise great Justin Verlander in 2017.

That was five years ago. When those Astros were five years removed from their first of three straight last-place seasons in 2011, they were a season from winning a World Series (with a little help, yes). When the Cubs were five years removed from bottoming out in 2011, they had won a World Series.

The Tigers have not won a World Series since committing to that rebuild in 2017. They have not made the playoffs since 2017. They have not posted a winning season since 2017. Some losing is expected, but the Tigers are currently 43-68 and on track for a fourth last-place finish in six years.

How did this happen? Well, in addition to rebuilding generally becoming a harder thing to do, the Tigers made some mistakes under Avila. The Verlander trade returned no players Detroit can currently call a building block. Neither did the J.D. Martinez trade or the Justin Upton trade. Nick Castellanos at least netted Alex Lange, who has been solid as a reliever this year. Avila declined to trade other pieces like Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd, only parting with Fulmer this year for a negligible return.

Meanwhile, the high draft picks that are supposed to power a rebuild are not working out ... yet. The first overall pick of 2018, Casey Mize, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this season and didn't exactly look like an ace when healthy. The first overall pick of 2020, Spencer Torkelson, made his debut this year and got sent down after posting a .577 OPS.

The Tigers' biggest free agent signing under Avila, Javier Báez, currently has a .634 OPS and is under contract through his age-34 season. Their second-biggest, Eduardo Rodriguez, ghosted the team earlier this year.

There is still some hope, though. Former fifth overall pick Riley Greene has so far been promising and Tarik Skubal looks like a legitimate starter, but recently hit the 15-day IL with arm fatigue. That's hardly enough to believe Avila was still the right person to be making the big decisions going forward.