Al Avila had a lot of work to do in his first offseason as the general manager of the Detroit Tigers replacing long-time predecessor Dave Dombrowski after the team stumbled to a 74-87 record this past year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
The starting pitching needed help after injuries and inconsistency plagued the rotation throughout the whole second half of last season. Avila quickly went out and signed former Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year deal worth $110 million and former Minnesota Twins starter Mike Pelfrey to a two-year deal worth $16 million.
Cameron J. Kaiser, of Detroit Tigers SB Nation blog “Bless You Boys,” expressed his satisfaction with the Zimmermann move, saying that “the surprise five-year signing looks like another smart move by rookie general manager Al Avila.”
The relief pitching last year was, for lack of kinder words, a dumpster fire. According to the 2016 edition of the “Bill James Handbook,” the Tigers bullpen ranked 27th out of 30 Major League teams in earned run average, with a figure of 4.38. In a somewhat contradictory fashion, the bullpen was improved with addition by subtraction as the team said goodbye to ineffective relievers Al Alburquerque, Neftali Feliz, Ian Krol and Tom Gorzelanny.
Avila and his staff then went to work completely rebuilding the bullpen from top to bottom, trading for veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers, trading for left-handed setup man Justin Wilson from the New York Yankees, and signing former Seattle Mariners reliever Mark Lowe to a two-year deal worth $11 million.
The man himself, Al Avila had the following to say about his improved bullpen. “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 (Justin) Wilson. 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,” Avila said.
The outfield was also in need of reinforcements after Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the New York Mets mid-season last year and Rajai Davis signed with the Cleveland Indians this offseason. Avila shored up center field by trading for Cameron Maybin from the Atlanta Braves and in the biggest coup of the offseason, signed potential superstar left fielder Justin Upton to a six-year deal worth $132.75 million.
Neil Weinberg of Detroit Tigers blog “New English D,” states his approval of the Upton deal. “The Tigers need Upton for the next couple of seasons and the risk they absorbed for that benefit is not unreasonable. He gets on base and hits for power, he plays a solid corner, and still runs the bases quite well. He’s a very good player and he’s still only 28,” Weinberg wrote.
Rob Rogacki, of Detroit Tigers SB Nation blog “Bless You Boys,” offers his take on the Maybin acquisition, writing that “this is a low-cost move for a player that will help the team to some degree in 2016, with a little breakout potential on the side,” Rogacki said.
Another necessary change was to find a new backup catcher when Alex Avila (yes, in case you were wondering, he is indeed Al Avila’s son.) left Detroit to sign with the Chicago White Sox. To do this, the team signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia (fun fact: this is the longest last name in Major League Baseball history) to a one-year deal worth a meager $508,000. His previous team, the Miami Marlins, are paying off the rest of his salary. Another minor addition was the signing of former Cleveland Indians utility man Mike Aviles to a one-year deal worth $2 million.
MLB.com columnist Phil Rogers wrote that in his opinion, the Tigers were the most improved team in Major League Baseball this offseason. Besides citing just the flashy, big name signings on Zimmermann and Upton along with the bullpen rebuild, he also praised the more minor moves. “Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia bring 17 years of experience to the bench, and Mike Pelfrey adds stability to the back of the rotation.”