August 2, 2016
His team on a roll, Tigers GM Al
Avila stands pat at MLB deadline
By KEITH GAVE
In a high-stakes game of poker Monday afternoon, Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila took one last look at his cards and liked what he saw.
The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went at 4 p.m., and Avila – to no one’s surprise – did nothing, the first time in 12 years the Tigers didn’t make some kind of move at the deadline. A week earlier, Avila tipped his hand, warning us not to expect anything.
And for this, some people who are more concerned about creating headlines than offering a decent analysis of the hectic day’s events want to call the Tigers losers?
I couldn’t disagree more. Avila didn’t fold his hand. Nor did he go all-in by trading away what looks like a reasonably bright future for a rental who may or may not help his team advance to the post-season in October.
Avila looked at his cards, and he checked, preferring to see baseball’s version of a flop – the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. That’s when rosters expand to 40 players, and those who aren’t on their team’s expanded roster and clear waivers can still be dealt.
In other words, if they feel they need pitching depth in the starting rotation the Tigers could still pick up a veteran arm for the final month of the season – if Avila decides it’s necessary.
But for now, and here’s where the man who on Friday will celebrate his first anniversary on the job deserves some credit, Avila is listening to his players. Those who spoke to the topic of the trade deadline were unanimous and rather blunt about how they felt about their team. They like it and didn’t feel any changes were necessary.
More important, they’ve been playing like a team that neither wanted nor needed any kind of shake-up in the clubhouse. Six straight impressive victories – a sweep at Boston followed by another sweep of Houston – no doubt had a lot to do with Avila’s decision to check his hand Monday, when rumors had him sniffing around for an experienced starter like Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson.
But the Phillies, like every other club Avila spoke to as he was casting for a starter, were demanding too much. Everyone wanted a top prospect in return, and we’re talking pitchers like Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris and Joe Jimenez. The first three guys, of course, are already in Detroit and contributing – none more than Fulmer, a Rookie of the Year candidate. Jimenez, one of the hottest relief prospects in baseball, surely will get his chance to make an impression in September.
Those four – Jimenez is widely touted as Detroit’s closer of the future – could form the nucleus of a pitching staff for the next decade. Why give up a big chunk of the future for a guy who might stick around for two months and then leave as a free agent?
And lest we not forget: Fulmer, Norris and Boyd were acquired last year at the deadline, when Dombrowski made the ill-fated decision to trade pending unrestricted free-agents David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. For that, Dombrowski was inexplicably fired.
Avila set about building around a veteran nucleus in the off-season, adding free agents including starter Jordan Zimmermann, closer Frankie Rodriguez, power-hitting left-fielder Justin Upton, and veteran backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia. After the season got under way, he started blending in those young pitchers, with Fulmer exploding on the scene.
After months of maddening inconsistency, the Tigers have gotten on their best roll of the season. At 8-2 in their last 10 games, they’re the hottest team in baseball, sitting just four games back of Central Division-leading Cleveland and just a game-and-a-half back of Boston and Toronto for one of the two wildcard berths.
But catching Cleveland just got a lot harder after the Indians traded a big chunk of their future away to the New York Yankees for Andrew Miller, the best left-handed reliever in baseball. And Texas, already with the best record in the American League, made two blockbuster deals Monday, beefing up their lineup by getting outfielder Carlos Beltran from the Yankees and catcher Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee.
Detroit will add to an already hot roster this week when Zimmermann returns from a neck injury and outfielder J.D. Martinez rejoins the lineup after missing six weeks with an elbow injury. The Tigers also could get Norris back; he’s missed most of July with a strained right oblique muscle.
So if you’re sitting at the rail watching Avila play the hand he’s dealt himself this season, it’s hard not to like his chances. Whether or not this team puts together a run that will take us on a wild and wonderful ride this October, you have to at least appreciate the work of its rookie GM.
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Another Marvelous Marathon
A shout out to all the paddlers who inspired us not just with another exhilarating start of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon on Saturday night, but an awe-inspiring finish with the first two boats crossing the finish line separated by less than a second after 14 ½ hours of paddling.
Congratulations to Grayling’s Ryan Halstead and partner Christophe Proulx, of Quebec, who narrowly edged nine-time champion Andy Triebold, of Grayling, and Jacob Dubois, of Houston.
Special kudos, too, to Bryan Bearss and Mandee Mlcek, both 39, who grew up in Grayling and now live in Anchorage, Alaska. They came home to participate in the race for the first time and finished in 18:06:45, well ahead of when they figured they’d reach Oscoda.