McCosky: No acceptance, no absolution, but Tigers aren't firing Al Avila anytime soon
Boston — Let’s get a couple of things straight, right out of the gate.
I don’t have the power to “get Al Avila fired.” I cover the team daily for The Detroit News. I do not work in the front office or at Ilitch headquarters. Nor can I fire the hitting coaches. Nor can I trade Miguel Cabrera, buy out his contract, or bench him.
Me writing a newspaper article suggesting those things won't make them so.
And this notion, which I get daily on Twitter or in my mailbox, that I am afraid to call for Avila’s termination, or for Cabrera’s head on a platter, or that I am somehow in cahoots with the whole plan — well, it’s absurd.
So is the misperception that by trying to explain the organization’s moves, by trying to provide answers for the hows, whys and wheres, I’m campaigning in favor of them. Such a notion is at once baffling and insulting.
My job is to report this mess, fairly, objectively, dispassionately, and to put it and keep it in some kind of perspective. And, yes, absolutely, to hold players, coaches and the front office accountable — for the bad and the good.
Lord knows I understand the frustration and fury of every Tigers fan out there. Watching this team founder and fail through the first 29 games, on top of all the losses and bad, uninteresting baseball we’ve witnessed the last three years — it has been excruciating. The struggle is real, for sure. We were hoping to see a glimmer of light this year and it’s been more intractable darkness.
Frustration and fury, how can there not be? I'm not mad at you for being mad. It’s both aggravating and depressing. For everyone. Fans, media, players, coaches, front office, Avila, CEO Christopher Ilitch. This straight sucks.
But, please hear this: Avila is not getting fired in 2021.
The Tigers are not going to blow up the plan now, especially with another vital draft a few months away. Not coming off a lost year with the pandemic and no minor-league development. Not with the arrival of two of the main building blocks — Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson — still a year or more away. Not with AJ Hinch and a new coaching staff just getting their bearings.
Ilitch signed off on this plan, and he’s going to let Avila see it all the way through. Sorry. Those are just the facts. Like it or not.
Let’s keep the timeline straight, too, please. They’ve not been rebuilding since 2014 or since 2006 or since 1984. Come on. This teardown started in 2017 when the Tigers traded Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.
This is the fourth year, the third year if you subtract the pandemic year. This was never going to be the breakthrough year. It was supposed to be the first year of building the roster back up, breaking in young pitchers Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and eventually Matt Manning, and establishing winning habits under a new coaching staff.
You can’t ignore the impact of the pandemic year. It adversely impacted development, personnel decisions and revenue. Mize and Skubal should have made 15 to 20 starts at Triple-A last year before making their debuts. Instead they pitched intrasquad games for a month and each made seven starts for the Tigers.
Yes, all 30 teams were similarly impacted. But not all 30 teams were just coming out of a massive payroll/roster teardown.
Last year should have been the year long-term decisions were made about players like Jake Rogers and Daz Cameron, two of the three players they got back in the Verlander trade. A full, 162-game season, with Triple-A availability, would have given them a clearer picture of where Willi Castro fit going forward, too.
Did he not do enough in the short stint last year to warrant a full look this year? Of course.
Maybe, too, if some of those questions, and others, could have been answered last year, if they were able to have a normal revenue intake, maybe they would have been a little bolder on the free agent market.
A little bolder. The big spend wasn’t ever going to be in the winter of 2021. But if there was more resolution around the diamond, they might've had clearer targets in free agency, instead of waiting and shopping in the bargain bins for stopgaps again.
No free passes
All that said, it was never supposed to be this bad. They seemingly upgraded the outfield with Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara. Bringing Jonathan Schoop back seemed solidifying. They’ve gotten a decent return on their investments in Wilson Ramos and Jose Urena. The starting pitching has been solid.
But the offense has gone into massive, collective funk and here we are — frustrated and furious.
Nobody is giving Avila a free pass. Mistakes have been made. The Verlander trade looks really bad right now, but it’s still too early to fairly render a verdict. Franklin Perez isn’t the pitcher they thought he’d be. Injuries have taken an irrevocable toll. But Rogers and Cameron remain viable prospects, though this is possibly their last make-or-break season.
To compare the get-back the Tigers got for Verlander to what the White Sox got for either Chris Sale and Jose Quintana back in 2017 is a little apples-to-oranges. Verlander was 34 years old and on the books for $84 million. Quintana was 28 and performing better than Verlander was at the time, and he was on the books for $30 million total.
Sale, in his prime, was owed less than $40 million when the White Sox traded him.
The Verlander trade hasn’t stunted the rebuild. Not yet. There were more regrettable moves, in my opinion.
Messing around with Nick Castellanos for two years, alienating him and ultimately making it impossible to resign him. That was counterproductive. They put themselves in a must-sell situation and ended up having to take what they could get for him at the trade deadline.
It was similar to what happened with J.D. Martinez and Upton.
I’d put the hasty decision to designate James McCann after the 2018 season in the mistake category, too. They could have signed him in 2019 for a little over $4 million. Instead they signed Austin Romine and Ramos for $2 million each.
We could grade this out transaction by transaction, but who has the time and energy? It won’t change the reality and it certainly won’t change Avila’s approval rating.
Again, nobody is advocating acceptance. Nobody is offering absolution. The brand of baseball the Tigers played in April, specifically on the offensive side, was well below big-league standards. It was what a Major League Baseball team should never be — hard to watch.
But there’s five months left in this thing. The Triple-A season starts Tuesday. Hinch will have a place to send underperforming pitchers and hitters. He will have a pool of players who have been competing in real games to draw from.
And besides, it’s inconceivable that these hitters can maintain this level of scuffle for even another month. Right? Especially players like Schoop, Cabrera, Grossman, even JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes.
But waging a Fire Avila campaign? Pointless. It just makes no logical or practical sense to beat the drum for something that’s not going to happen. As if Ilitch is going to wake up on the third day of the second month of the season and eradicate the front office of his baseball team, scrap a plan that he’s endorsed since the day they traded Verlander, and start over.
Not after three productive drafts and another critical one on the horizon. Not while the cornerstone pieces are still developing.
Not going to happen.
On deck: Red Sox
► Series: Three games at Fenway Park, Boston
► First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday — 7:10 p.m; Thursday — 1:10 p.m.
► TV/radio: All games on BSD/97.1 FM
► Probables: Tuesday — RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 3.86) vs. RHP Nick Pivetta (3-1, 2.81); Wednesday — RHP Casey Mize (1-3, 5.06) vs. LHP Martin Perez (0-2, 4.70); Thursday — RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-2, 4.50) vs. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.63).
► Fulmer, Tigers: His metrics have been much better than his raw results. His 95.5-mph average fastball velocity is in the top 10 percentile in baseball. He's got a 61% strike rate and has 20 Ks and just 6 walks. He's got a 44% whiff rate with his four-seamer and a 36% with his slider.
► Pivetta, Red Sox: He’s a pitch-to-contact guy with a firm, four-seam fastball (95 mph) and slider. Opponents this year are hitting just .176 and slugging .280 against him. He’s allowed one home run in 25.2 innings, but he does issue walks — an average of six per nine innings.