Avila points to Brewers as example for rebuild

Tigers GM feels club made progress during 2018 season

September 29th, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers jerseys and hats were in the background behind general manager Al Avila as he talked with reporters about the Tigers' season and where their rebuild is headed. It made sense, since his end-of-season media session was taking place inside the bowels of Miller Park.

From a philosophical standpoint, too, the symbolism was fitting. As Avila discussed the Tigers' future challenge, he pointed to the postseason-bound Brewers as Detroit's end-game. Four years after embarking on their rebuild, trading away established players for prospects, Milwaukee is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

"The Milwaukee Brewers are a good example," Avila said. "It's all about acquiring, acquiring, acquiring [prospects], try to make more better decisions than bad decisions. That's the process. Meanwhile, if you're doing that and you're trying to bring your payroll down with unnecessary expenses, let's say, then you put yourself in the best position to win in the near future, because you're not going to have a World Series or a contending team for the World Series by just these type of acquisitions. Eventually, at some point, you're going to have to go out there and sign somebody. And so you want to put your team in a position where we can do that."

The Tigers are in the early stages. Many of the prospects likely to play a part in that end-game haven't arrived in the Majors yet, except for outfielder Christin Stewart and second baseman . Others are a year or more away.

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"A lot of these guys that were in Double-A are going to be in Triple-A [next year]," Avila said. "There might be guys going from Double-A to Triple-A that in the near future are going to be in the big leagues, and some of the guys that are here [now] may not be here.

"If you look at this team, don't say, 'Oh, is that the team that we're going to be winning with two years from now?' No, it's probably going to look a lot different."

Some important decisions regarding the team's current big league roster are coming. Shortstop is a free agent this winter, and while Avila said they haven't decided whether to consider re-signing him, Detroit is definitely evaluating the shortstop market, as well as second base.

The Tigers have at least eight arbitration-eligible players this winter, and Avila said they have decisions to make on them. One of them is catcher .

"He struggled a little bit this year with the bat," Avila said, "but he's a veteran guy, he handles the pitching staff great, and he's been durable. … I think there's more potential in there, but he's getting to that point now, getting close to free agency and making a little bit more money, so we have to make a tough decision on him. We have not made any decisions yet, but he's one guy that we have to look at and determine do we bring him back or not."

, meanwhile, is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, leaving the Tigers at a crossroads on his future and whether to consider a long-term contract with him, try to trade him or play out next season and let him become a free agent.

"It's something we have to figure out: Will he be here when we're ready to contend for the playoffs? That's the big question," Avila said. "If you could tell me in the next couple of years we're going to be a team that's going to the postseason, then it'd be easy to answer that and keep Nick around. He's a great hitter."

One factor that could play into the debate, Avila acknowledged, is the chance of moving from revenue-sharing payer to receiver, which would improve the compensation pick the Tigers would receive if Castellanos were to decline a qualifying offer and sign elsewhere as a free agent.

"Where he fits in the future of the Detroit Tigers, we're still working through that at this point," Avila continued. "But right now, I see him as our starting right fielder in 2019."

They're similar decisions other rebuilding teams have faced. And as Avila acknowledged, they're not going to win every decision. But the key is to hit on enough, again comparing their situation to the Brewers.

"Not every trade they've made has been good. If that's what your expectation is, then you're living in a fantasy land," Avila said. "But you have to try to make more good ones than bad ones. Through that process, there's going to be a guy here and a guy there, then all of a sudden, that's the guy that's hitting 25 home runs and that's the guy that's hitting .280."

Add those guys to the prospects acquired, fill out the roster with a trade or two, and teams like Milwaukee can surprise.

That's a long way off for Detroit, though. Asked whether the Tigers' season has been successful, Avila said they've been moving in the right direction.

"What you're looking at is making progress, which I feel we did," he said.