Al Avila did a great job, but now he's got more work to do

If there's anything that gives me more pleasure than arm-chair managing, it has to be arm-chair General Managing. Here, in the comfort of my recliner, with a forest of beer bottles on my end table, I find myself eminently qualified to pass judgment on what Al Avila did for the Tigers in 2016 and tell you how he could h--


Alright, enough of that shtick, let's get down to business.

At the end of the 2015 season, Al Avila had a mess on his hands. His team had just finished in last place, his bullpen was a dumpster fire, his outfield had holes, and his starting rotation was in serious need of help. (Remember when Randy Wolf made seven starts for the team that year?) For an added challenge, he needed to accomplish this major overhaul with more than half of his payroll already tied up in just four players.

For the non-mathematically inclined, that's a very bad thing. That's like saying you've spent more than half of your budget on a nice couch, a big-screen TV, a kick-ass sound system, and a dining room table -- now you just need to finish building a house around those things with the remaining cash.

Al Avila not only pulled it off, his team came within a game or two of getting into the postseason. In fact, take those six games where Justin Verlander pitched seven or more innings and gave up one or fewer runs, turn those games into wins (which they should have been) instead of losses (which they actually were), and Al Avila might have actually been looking at a division title just one year into the job.

He gets an "A" grade from me.

But now a new challenge is facing him. Most of this team is under contract for 2017, so Option A -- the obvious choice -- is to keep the band together and make another run at a World Series championship. It wouldn't be that difficult, honestly. Let Jordan Zimmermann get fully healthy. Let Justin Upton build off of what he did in September. Put Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez in a round room and tell them they can't come out until the find the corner.

Except for one kind-of-big problem: 2018 is on the horizon, and it doesn't look good. Justin Upton, K-Rod, Mark Lowe, Mike Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez, J.D. Martinez, and Cameron Maybin are all potentially off the roster after the 2017 season. That's an entire outfield.

Did I also mention that the farm system is on life support?

So Option B is a little more painful, if also necessary: start trading some of these players who have a year left on their contracts and pick up some almost-MLB-ready prospects in preparation for 2018. Get some real studs for the farm. Someone like J.D. Martinez, or Justin Upton, or Ian Kinsler, could net quite a few talented young kids for 2018 and beyond.

NO! you say, KEEP THE TEAM WE HAVE, WIN THE WORLD SERIES! And then most of those players will still end up gone at the end of 2017, leaving nothing of real value in their wake.

There's real value in having a few of stud prospects in your farm system. Francisco Lindor is proving that for the Cleveland Indians right now, as we speak. Kris Bryant is doing the same thing for the Chicago Cubs. The Tigers can either start paying attention to their minor league pipeline, or they can continue down the path of stocking their roster using the free agent market -- which is exactly how you end up with more than half of your payroll tied up in just a handful of players, with bloated contracts and aging stars.

Al Avila says it's time to scale back on the big, costly free agent purchases and start making the team younger. Which means trading away some old familiar faces. Which means that 2017 could be a bit of a rough ride. The Chicago Cubs won 97 games in 2015, and 103 games in 2016 with their young roster, but that was after spending 2014 in last place. That's how it works. You plant crops for a future feast, but until the harvest is ready, you eat roots and berries. Or Twinkies.

The job Al Avila had last offseason was a difficult one, but he took a last place team and got them to within a few games and a shot of pixie dust of being in the postseason. The job he's got this offseason is a little trickier, given its long-term implications, but Al Avila knows a thing or two about prospects and finding talent. After all, he's the guy who spotted a young Miguel Cabrera all those years ago, and he's the guy who saw the talent in a J.D. Martinez who had been left on the Astros trash heap.

The success of this offseason rests, then, on savvy trades and spotting young talent. I think Al Avila is more than up to the task.

Buckle up, though. This might hurt a little.
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