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Avila makes mark, brings balance in first offseason

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The line from Tigers general manager Al Avila at the Justin Upton news conference last week sounded familiar.

"There is no perfect team," Avila said in looking over the squad he has assembled in his first offseason in charge.

DETROIT -- The line from Tigers general manager Al Avila at the Justin Upton news conference last week sounded familiar.

"There is no perfect team," Avila said in looking over the squad he has assembled in his first offseason in charge.

It's something Avila's predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, mentioned many times in recent years when talking about offseason moves. As Dombrowski would note, you can't have an All-Star at every position. After 14 years in Detroit as Dombrowski's top assistant before owner Mike Ilitch made a change last August, Avila should be familiar with the line.

As Avila went into more detail, though, his imprint became more clear.

Video: Avila, Tigers welcome outfielder Upton to Detroit

"I'm not telling you that this is a perfect team," Avila said. "We could bring Babe Ruth here tomorrow, and it's not going to guarantee a championship here. It's going to take the entire roster."

If there's one unique trait that Avila has brought to the top job, it's that last part. He focused on the full roster.

Like many first-time GMs in recent years, Avila's first offseason will be known for the big signings, committing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in contracts for Upton and Jordan Zimmermann. Still, the Tigers have had big-spending offseasons over the years, and Avila played a role in many of them under Dombrowski.

If there's a change to be noted, it's balance, both on the roster and in the front office. Detroit spent big, but the Tigers also rebuilt the bullpen and assembled a veteran bench, two areas that needed upgrades in other years but which had to bear the price for allocations in other areas. Neither got a big deal, but with Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson and Mike Aviles, they improved significantly.

"Now we have a closer and we have a setup guy and we have one addition to the bullpen that we haven't had in a long time, which is a power lefty in Wilson," Avila said. "We didn't have that last year. So I think, because of the overall health of our core players and some of the new guys that have come in, you've got to feel that we're a little bit better off than we were last year."

The Tigers made moves to better their chances of winning now, but kept their vision for the long-term intact.

Video: Verlander says talented team could reach World Series

"What was interesting about this year with Al, and what goes unnoticed sometimes, we acquired nine new players for our 25-man roster and we were able to hang onto our top prospects, which is amazing really," assistant GM David Chadd said Saturday at TigerFest.

Detroit's farm system, restocked from last summer's Deadline deals, went largely untouched. Luis Cessa, acquired in the Yoenis Cespedes trade and sent to the Yankees in the Justin Wilson deal, was the only Top 10 prospect to go. Not only did top-ranked Michael Fulmer and other upper-level prospects stay put, so did lower-level prospects such as Beau Burrows, Joe Jimenez and Spencer Turnbull.

"There were times, trust me, that it was tempting," Chadd continued, "but Al stuck by his guns and hung onto those kids, and we're a better organization for that."

Chadd should know, since he was a central figure in discussions as part of Avila's inner circle. Avila not only kept Dombrowski's strategy of leaning on a small but trusted group of assistants, he kept pretty much the entire inner circle Dombrowski had assembled.

At the same time, Avila brought new views into the conversation. The analytics department he built out provided numbers on potential scenarios, including the different outfield and starting pitching options. When the Tigers looked at Upton, Avila leaned on opinions from special assistant Alan Trammell and Tigers broadcaster Kirk Gibson, who coached and managed Upton during his early years in Arizona.

The result was a wide-ranging, balanced conversation beyond the obvious.

"We know that Justin Upton can play baseball," Avila said. "We know that Jordan Zimmermann is a great pitcher. The statistical information gives you information that you feel comfortable with, but so do your scouts, and so do the conversations with the Alan Trammells and Kirk Gibsons of the world. All that information helps you make good, sound decisions. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't, but when you go into them, you feel good about it."

The Tigers went into the offseason feeling good about their plan, with a frontline starter expected to be their biggest investment. When Ilitch authorized a big move to upgrade in left field, however, Avila and Co. were ready, having scouted the top end of the market just in case.

In the end, all the upgrades might make little difference if not for the core players. Even with Upton, the Tigers' offense needs a full season from Miguel Cabrera and a productive, healthy left-handed swing from switch-hitting Victor Martinez. Detroit's rotation, even with Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey, hinges in large part on Justin Verlander continuing his late-season form into 2016.

It's not a perfect team, but after Avila waited years for his chance to be GM, it's his team, with his imprint.

"Obviously [there's] a little more pressure, because everything comes back to you," Avila said. "But when you have a good staff of people -- the pro scouts, the guys that I have around me -- it makes it a lot easier, because we've all gone through it together. It was a matter of just going through the process and then delivering. You have to execute. I thought we negotiated good contracts. I think we made some good trades."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers