Avila, Ilitch, the Tigers, and the future


The 13-inning exhaust-a-thon between the Tigers and Orioles that ended in a loss on Tuesday night will probably stand as a monument to the 2017 season. It had everything, all the reasons why this 2017 Tigers team is a good team, all the reasons why this team is a bad team, all the reasons why they are the baseball team equivalent of that one friend of yours that you never really want to invite to your party, because he'll be boring and not drink.

It was one of those games where you can't blame any one single thing, though lord knows people try.


Yes, the bats squandered some golden opportunities to score late and put the game to bed, but on the other hand, you can't seriously blame the offense in a game where they scored eleven humping runs for cripes sake. Eleven runs should equal a win every single time.

I was so morbidly intrigued by this gruesome curiosity that I went back to the archives and checked. Since 2010, only 5 percent of games have even featured an offense that scored 11 or more runs. That's it's own little oddity, all by itself. 

But out of all of the games in the past seven years, an offense has scored 11 or more runs and still lost the game just 0.07 percent of the time. Not 7 percent, not 0.7 percent, 0.07 percent.


It was definitely a predictable performance by K-Rod. And Blaine Hardy getting smacked around wasn't entirely a surprise either. But on the whole? The bullpen threw 10 2/3 innings and only gave up 4 ER. That's a 3.38 ERA for the game, a game in which they -- the bullpen, that is, all by themselves -- pitched more than a standard nine-inning game.

Let me put it this way: that breaks down to an average of 2 1/4 earned runs over six innings by the bullpen, and this team has a couple of starters who struggle to put up numbers like that on a regular basis.

But yeah, there is a valid point here, and it's that the Tigers bullpen is short-staffed and has two pitchers (Anibal Sanchez and Francisco Rodriguez) taking up valuable roster spots.


That's an actual tweet, BTW, I didn't make that up (the content, I mean -- of course I made up the sender). It's hard to make up takes that hot.

Fans have an incredible luxury. We can watch K-Rod implode, work through the heavy logical analysis involved in "KROD = BAD, BAD = NOT GOOD, FIRE AVILA," fling a half-full beer can at the television, and go to bed satisfied with another day of having the entire world completely figured out.

Yes, Al Avila built this bullpen. In 2015. For the short-on-memory, it's the same bullpen that had the seventh-best FIP in the American League last season. In other words: slightly above average, not terribly flashy, completely serviceable.

The same damned group shows up in 2017 with the exception that K-Rod and Sanchez are now completely unusable, and suddenly this is Al Avila's fault and he should be fired. As in, ousted from his role as GM, to be replaced by ... well ... hey, you know what, you're just a beer-flinging fan, you don't need to worry about little details like that.

Ok, but K-Rod and Sanchez really are completely unusable. So ...


Ah. Well, you see, here's the thing: Al Avila already went to Chris Ilitch at the beginning of this season with $13M in salary from Mark Lowe and Mike Pelfrey, piled up those fat stacks of cash on a fine china plate, then covered it in maple syrup and said "eat up!" Somewhere, Chris is still chewing and thinking, "no, seriously, I'm going to start going to Pilates again, just let me have my binge day." 

And he's got another stack of $6M in a cake dish from Prince Fielder's salary, just waiting to be served for dessert.

If you think he's now going to take the money from the K-Rod and Sanchez contracts, another $23M for two more empty locker spaces, and eat that for Round 2, I don't know what to tell you. That's more than 20 percent of the team's total payroll at the end of the day, and to think that any team owner would eat that and then pay even more to re-stock the roster is just so hot-take-y it almost isn't real.

That take is so hot it nearly beats the time my car broke down and I had to cancel a weekend family trip. My five-year-old's words of wisdom: "We can still go, Daddy, just buy a new car!" Makes about as much sense as "just cut K-Rod and Sanchez already, we can get new and better relievers!"


Remember when Al Avila beat everyone to the pitcher's market in 2015 and locked down Jordan Zimmermann for a steal? Remember how much everyone loved that deal and how nobody thought it was a bad idea? Remember when he traded a no-name minor leaguer for K-Rod and it was a solid move that people thought was really shrewd? Remember wh-- look, forget it.

Al Avila picked up the phone in 2015 and dialed 1-800-ROSTERZ, except at the main menu he accidentally hit "2" for instructions in German, so he didn't hear the "some exclusions may apply, all sales are final" disclaimers at the end. Some deals that looked good went very, very wrong because the players involved barfed all over themselves, each other, and their career stats. If you want to blame that on Avila, go ahead, let me just get you a fresh six-pack -- this TV ain't gonna get beer all over itself.

So here we are. What you saw on Tuesday is why the Tigers are a .500 team. What you saw was a five-hour interpretive dance called "Mid-week Meditations on Meh." And what's going on in the front office is a bit of unavoidable grid-lock. It took many years of trading prospects, giving up draft picks, and doling out hefty contracts to get to this point -- it's not going to be solved in two offseasons and one MLB draft.

It's going to take time. It's going to take trading away some good players. It's going to take waiting for bad money to come off the books.

In the meanwhile, here's something to take away as a fun souvenir from that Tuesday night game. J.D. Martinez hit two home runs, drove in five runs, and got intentionally walked twice. Only three other players have had games that were at least that good: Adam Dunn in 2010, Kirby Puckett in 1994, and Dave Parker in 1978.

Now they have to make room to add another entry on that little plaque: J.D. Martinez, 2017.

Hey, at least you got to watch history being made.
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