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GM Al Avila signs extension with Tigers

29-year MLB front-office veteran thrilled to see Detroit rebuild through
July 5, 2019

DETROIT – When the Tigers signed Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos on Tuesday at the start of the international signing period, general manager Al Avila joked that he hoped to be around to see the 16-year-old slugger eventually reach the big leagues. It appears Avila will get a fair chance. The

DETROIT – When the Tigers signed Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos on Tuesday at the start of the international signing period, general manager Al Avila joked that he hoped to be around to see the 16-year-old slugger eventually reach the big leagues. It appears Avila will get a fair chance.

The Tigers announced on Tuesday a multi-year extension for Avila, whose original contract was set to expire after next season. While the exact terms weren’t officially announced, the extension is expected to keep him at the helm for the long term, allowing him to see through the rebuilding process he started two years ago.

“It’s clear to anyone that follows Tigers baseball that our organization is undergoing a significant transformation,” Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “I’ve been impressed with Al’s leadership and focus and the steadfast way he has led our baseball operations since becoming general manager.

“Al has methodically implemented his plan, and the execution of that plan has demonstrated progress and results in scouting, drafting, player development and analytics. I am especially pleased with the progress we have made in securing a stable of talented prospects, which bodes well for our future. Al has a proven track record in this game, and his nearly three decades of experience is paying dividends in this rebuilding phase.”

The extension will give Avila two full decades with the Tigers organization, having joined in 2002 as an assistant GM. This season marks his 29th in pro baseball after joining the expansion Marlins as a scout.

The extension had been anticipated since Spring Training, when Ilitch said he was thrilled with Avila’s work and planned on having the conversation at some point.

That point ended up being in recent days, Avila said.

Friday’s announcement comes as the Tigers begin their final series before the All-Star break with a 28-54 record, coming off back-to-back 64-98 seasons. While the big league team struggles through the rebuilding process, Detroit’s Minor League system has progressed from a bottom-ranked farm to one of the top 10 organizations this year, according to MLB Pipeline.

The Tigers will send three prospects to Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game for the first time since 2012, including highly touted starting pitcher Matt Manning. They have four prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 rankings, headlined by former top overall Draft pick Casey Mize as baseball’s top-ranked right-handed pitching prospect.

Those pitching prospects are expected to begin knocking on Detroit’s door next year, and they probably won’t be alone. Nearly 80 percent of the Tigers' Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, are at Double-A Erie or Triple-A Toledo, not including many of their highly drafted position prospects over the past couple years such as Parker Meadows and Kody Clemens.

The Tigers have preached patience with their fanbase to allow the process to play out.

“There’s a lot of interest in our Minor League system by our fans,” Avila said. “That’s a good thing, because just like you saw with the White Sox when they brought up [highly touted pitching prospect Dylan] Cease, there was a lot of excitement to see this kid pitch. Well, we’re going to have the same thing. That’s the process.

“I think right now, we have a fanbase following this whole process. I think they’re excited about it. I’d rather be on the way to winning 95 games at the big league level, but this is something we have to go through.”

While the Tigers have restocked their farm system, Avila has also spent resources rebuilding their evaluation tools, filling out their analytics department from one person into a large department while hiring Jay Sartori, Jim Logue and others to help build a scouting and analytics database called Caesar.

“We have a huge scouting department that we’ve increased in the pro ranks, the amateur scouts, and the front office here with analytics and with [assistant GM] David [Chadd] and [senior advisor] John [Westhoff]. The job that they do is going to determine whether we’re successful or not.”

The Tigers have spent four years trying to catch up with other organizations that had a head start on analytics. While evaluators in other organizations have noted the progress, Avila is abundantly confident, maybe even braggadocious, about where they stand now.

“I think we have right now probably as good of an analytics department as you can get in baseball,” Avila said. “Arguably there’s probably teams like the Yankees and the Houston Astros and the Dodgers, that blow everybody out of the water. But apart from that, I think we’re the best, or at least among the best. And I feel the same way about our scouting and player-development system.”

The ultimate judgment on that, and the Tigers’ scouting-analytics blend, will be based on the results in the Majors. Friday’s extension all but ensures Avila will be around to see it through.

“It’s a tough time,” Avila said. “When you start moving along, there’s a fast pace to it. And then at the end, when you start seeing it come together, you can see the light. And right now in the middle, it’s like the darkest hour. That’s what we’re going through right now. But in saying that, there’s a lot of good things happening, a little light in different areas. That’s what we’re clinging to, and that’s why we have to pursue that process.”

For now, Avila’s extension has no impact on manager Ron Gardenhire, whose contract had run concurrent with Avila.

“I’ve got another year on my contract, which is exactly what I agreed to and I’m happy with,” Gardenhire said. “I got a three-year contract. That’s what I signed [upon being hired]. And we both talked [about] that at the end of the three years, we’ll see where we’re at.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.