Tigers part ways with GM Al Avila

August 11th, 2022

DETROIT -- The Tigers on Wednesday parted ways with vice president/general manager Al Avila, who led the team through a difficult rebuild but paid the price for a disappointing 2022 season. Sam Menzin, vice president and assistant GM, will continue as the day-to-day point of contact for the baseball operations department, the club announced.

“I think heading into the season, all of us at the ballclub -- that would include the players, front office and I think many of you, if not all of you -- had high expectations and excitement for the season,” Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a press conference. “Unfortunately, we did not see progress this season at the Major League level, and it’s a big reason why I decided it’s time to make a change.”

It’s the end of an era for the Tigers and Avila, who has been part of the organization since 2002. Ilitch said that he made the decision within the past few days and informed Avila earlier in the day. Instead of waiting for season’s end, Ilitch decided to make the move now and get a head start on the hiring process.

“At this point in time, enough of the season has occurred and we’ve played enough games to where I feel as though we just have not seen progress this year," he said. "And I’ve been very clear year in and year out: We need to make progress each and every year. If we do that, ultimately, we will accomplish our objectives. And that’s what led me to the decision.”

The search will be the first the Tigers have conducted for their top baseball official since hiring Dave Dombrowski as team president/CEO following the 2001 season. Avila joined a few months later to serve as Dombrowski’s top assistant, reprising a partnership they had with the Marlins. When Dombrowski was dismissed in August 2015, then-owner Mike Ilitch promoted Avila to general manager.

The Tigers contended for an AL Wild Card spot in 2016 with a roster of veterans, several of whom had been part of four consecutive AL Central titles from '11-14. A year later, Detroit embarked on a long-anticipated rebuild, with Avila trading J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler.

Under Avila, the Tigers centered their rebuild around a strengthened farm system and a newfound emphasis on analytics. Toward the former end, Detroit stocked up on pitching prospects, drafting Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Casey Mize with consecutive first-round picks before adding Riley Greene and in the next couple of years.

At the same time, Avila led a modernization of the Tigers organization, which started out woefully behind other clubs. Avila hired Jay Sartori to help build an analytics department virtually from scratch, while investing millions to turn the team’s Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla., into a player development and technology hub, with tools focused on player improvement. The buildup eventually spread to the team’s affiliates, where each stop includes technology to measure player improvement and developmental coaches to help translate data into performance.

The long rebuild seemed to be turning when the Tigers -- under new manager A.J. Hinch -- jumped to 77 wins last year, their best season since 2016. However, Detroit sputtered this season with a bevy of injuries and struggles from several young players, including Torkelson. An anticipated selloff at last week's Trade Deadline yielded just a couple of prospects for soon-to-be free agents Michael Fulmer and Robbie Grossman.

While Avila had success finding undervalued prospects in smaller deals, such as infielder Willi Castro for Leonys Martin in 2018 and Alex Lange for Nick Castellanos in '19, larger deals failed to bolster the system with top prospects. None of the three prospects the Tigers acquired in the Justin Verlander trade that kick-started the rebuild in 2017 -- Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron and Franklin Perez -- are with the Major League club. And Cameron was optioned back to Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday night to make room for Kerry Carpenter, a 19th-round selection in the 2019 Draft who could become an example of the Tigers’ recent trend of finding later-round gems.

In the end, the struggle to acquire additional talent from the outside -- both through free agency and the trade market -- slowed the rebuild and left Detroit struggling to compete on the field this year.

“The building of successful teams, they move at different paces,” Ilitch said. “You look at longer ones like Seattle’s process, and then there’s a bit faster turnarounds like we’re seeing right now in Baltimore. For us, the organization has made so much progress over the last few years. We need to just re-establish that momentum that we had heading into this season and keep building toward accomplishing each of our objectives.”

Whoever succeeds Avila will have to take a deep dive into the organization, top to bottom, and weigh where the Tigers fall on that scale. Ilitch said he has no timetable and no set list yet, though he said internal and external candidates will be considered.

“We’re just looking for the right person to accomplish our objectives,” Ilitch said. “We want to play sustainable, winning baseball, we want to qualify for the playoffs, and ultimately we want to win a World Series championship. So what kind of baseball operations am I looking for as we go forward? I’m looking for the best candidate to help us accomplish those objectives.

“Our search is going to be thorough, it’s going to be wide, it’s going to be deep. And I’m going to leave it wide open at this point in time.”

Hinch will be involved in that process along with other Tigers baseball executives, Ilitch said. However, Hinch -- who has been a player development director in past stops -- said he is not interested in the GM job.

“I’m the manager,” he said. “I plan on being the manager.”

To that end, Hinch also made an early play on being a recruiter for the job.

“The Detroit Tigers organization is a good place. We have a ton of opportunity,” he said. “This is the same place that was attractive a couple of years ago when I came here. Obviously the players, the fan base, the commitment from ownership, the opportunity to build kind of your own brand here with a fresh start. Hopefully they like the manager in place.

“There’s a lot to feature here, and to be a Detroit Tiger matters. It’s not just taking over our record this season or last season. Whoever it is, unless it’s somebody internal, would come with no sort of baggage from the last two years when I’ve been here, or the five years, six years, seven years, however long it’s been. And that, to me, is a blank slate.”