What we know — and don’t know — about Al Avila’s trade record

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has a very busy two weeks ahead of him.

Despite whatever conjecture there will be via public or private comments, the Tigers are likely to at least sell some assets at the trade deadline. This will be the first time this happens under Avila, though he was heavily involved in Dave Dombrowski’s 2015 selloff.

I have, at times, been a bit surprised by the antipathy some Tigers fans harbor toward Avila. The truth of the matter is that his list of moves, particularly on the trade front, is not that long. There are the ones that he didn’t make, but according to those in the know, was hugely responsible for — Michael Fulmer was his idea, as was J.D. Martinez.

A majority of Avila’s free agent signings have been criticized, but looked sound at the time. Justin Upton looked like a disaster, but is now an All-Star. Jordan Zimmermann hasn’t worked out, but not even the most cynical fan could have predicted a spate of injuries and what happened after. Mark Lowe was iffy, but it was really only the Mike Pelfrey signing that commanded significant resources and was ripe for criticism immediately. Even that, as bad as it was, will have no long-term implications, as Pelfrey’s dollars will come off the books after this season. It was just the wrong choice.

What about Avila’s trades? Let’s go through the significant ones.

November 18, 2015 — Tigers trade infielder Javier Betancourt and catcher Manny Pina to the Milwaukee Brewers for relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez.

Whatever you think of what Rodriguez turned into in 2017, the Tigers did give up nothing of value to get him. Pina is a career backup, while Betancourt is a career .234 hitter at AA.

In 2016, Rodriguez posted a 3.24 ERA and saved 44 games for the Tigers. He did it for $7.5 million dollars. Was he elite? No. Did he blow some bad ones? Yes. Was he good enough overall? Pretty much. The Tigers got a year of decent relief pitching for nothing.

November 20, 2015 — Tigers trade relief pitcher Ian Krol and pitcher Gabe Speier to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for outfielder Cameron Maybin.

Again, Avila gives up little of value here. Speier has some potential, but doesn’t look like he’s about to become an elite reliever or anything like that. Krol is an inconsistent LOOGY. Maybin hit .315 in an injury-plagued season for the Tigers before being dealt again. Good deal, though, one that fans can have no complaints with.

December 9, 2015 — Tigers trade pitchers Chad Green and Luis Cessa to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Justin Wilson.

Outstanding. On one hand, both Green and Cessa have turned into big leaguers, and Green has turned out to be a pretty good reliever. So is Wilson, though — a hard-throwing lefty who should command a significant return on the trade market. The rare trade that works for both sides, but it’s safe to say there are few regrets from the Tigers side of the deal.

November 3, 2016 — Tigers trade outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels for pitcher Victor Alcantara.

A salary dump, pretty much. Doesn’t look great on the surface. Alcantara has good stuff if he can ever get command of it.

That’s it. There are some other minor ones — swapping Bryan Holaday for Bobby Wilson, and the Mikie Mahtook deal — but Avila is, near as I can tell, loathed by certain segments of the fanbase on the basis of four trades — three of which were good — and four free agent signings, as well as his retention of Brad Ausmus as manager.

Why? Who knows. The obvious answer is the team hasn’t succeeded despite a high payroll, but a number of the contracts that have led to this situation were handed out by Avila’s predecessor. The same goes for the lack of prospects and roster flexibility — the result of an organization under a mandate from ownership to stretch the window out as long as possible, even when it probably shouldn’t have been. Was Avila second in command during that time? Yes. We don’t know how much or how little input he had on all these moves.

The reality is, as much as some Tigers fans would like to write Avila’s epitaph now, his record as general manager of the team is very much a blank slate. What happens in the next two weeks will go a long way toward defining it.

Game 77: Daniel Norris drives me insane

Notes from the baseball wilderness, Vol. 77:

Daniel Norris is a mere 24 years old. It is far, far too soon to write him off and anyone who does so should be roundly ignored and ostracized and targeted with all sorts of truly offensive name-calling like “ninny” and “loser” and “silly doo-doo head” and things of that nature. But at some point, the young left-hander needs to take a step forward.

For pitching prospects who fail, it is rarely a failure of stuff. It’s not talent — every big leaguer has talent, yes, even you, Francisco Rodriguez — but rather learning how to use it. Guys who have gone through their entire minor league career tossing 99 MPH past guys get to the Majors and quickly discover that, yes, these hitters can square up a 99 MPH fastball if it doesn’t move enough or is poorly located. The challenge for a gifted young pitcher isn’t their stuff — it’s harnessing it and learning how to consistently get hitters out with it.

That is where Norris is. He made 13 starts last year, struck out over a batter an inning, kept his walks down, and looked like he’d figured something out. On Wednesday night, he made his 15th start of the season. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he’s worse across the board.

Why? Who knows. You can clearly see the talent when he pitches, he’ll go through good stretches, and then you have outings like this one, where every time he got behind in a count, he seemed to resort to a meaty fastball that was hit halfway to Windsor.

Like for the Tigers, the 2017 season looks like it might be a lost cause for Norris. That may actually work out better in the long-term — with no pressure to lift the team out of their current malaise, he can work on learning to pitch at this level and finding the consistency he will need to become the reliable starter he still can be.

Tigers score 19 runs, still manage to make you hate them

The Detroit Tigers beat the Seattle Mariners 19-9 on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, with their bullpen trying to see just how big a lead they could blow in the process. Some thoughts:

  • Remember when we were a little worried by the offense’s slow start? Obviously, a lineup prominently featuring Jim Adduci, Andrew Romine, and Tyler Collins probably isn’t going to be banging out 24 hits on a regular basis in games started by Felix Hernandez, but don’t question it now. Justin Upton hit a particularly impressive bomb, and James McCann actually managed to take Hernandez deep (though it’s safe to say the pitcher was not himself and lasted just two innings thanks to a “dead arm.”
  • Jordan Zimmermann wasn’t terribly impressive, and he couldn’t blame the weather this time.  He gave up 11 hits in six innings, good for five earned runs. He didn’t walk anyone, which was the good news, but his one strikeout was evidence of the fact that the guy didn’t miss many bats. You’d have liked to see at least seven out of him after being staked to such a huge lead.
  • That bullpen. I’m not sure what else to say other than it’s utterly unforgivable that so many guys had to be trotted out there to get outs with a double-digit lead. Shane Greene walked two and gave up two hits while only getting two outs. Kyle Ryan walked two and gave up a hit in an inning. Joe Jimenez walked two in two thirds of an inning, and Blaine Hardy walked one and gave up two hits in just a third of an inning. In total, the Tigers’ bullpen pitched three innings, all of them with an enormous lead, and allowed five hits and seven walks in those three innings. It was atrocious and the only one who pitched tonight who shouldn’t be ashamed of himself is Alex Wilson, who came in to get one out and did so in characteristically controlled fashion. He and Justin Wilson are the only two trustworthy relievers right now.
  • It wasn’t Brad Ausmus’s fault, for what it’s worth. The fault lies with the pitchers themselves, who had no excuse for failing that badly in zero-pressure situations, and the folks who put together a bullpen with zero depth to speak of. Some of these guys don’t belong on a big league roster, but there just isn’t anybody better in the system lying around, so here they are.
  • Ultimately, the good outweighed the bad by about ten runs — but it’s amazing that this team can put up 19 runs and 24 hits and still manage to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

The series continues Wednesday in a battle of hard-throwing lefties: James Paxton vs. Daniel Norris.

The Tigers won a series in Cleveland!

This is not a political blog, so I offer this not as commentary, but as a frame of reference: the Tigers clinched their last series win at Cleveland’s Progressive Field with a 7-3 win on June 23, 2015. A week prior to that, Donald Trump announced that he was running for President of the United States. It has, indeed, been a while.

  • I’m going to keep sitting here and saying Matthew Boyd is basically a fifth starter, and he was pitching in a ton of traffic Sunday that could have easily gone the wrong way had he not been as sharp. Luckily, he was. The contact was by and large not stinging, and despite the traffic, he didn’t ever give up the big hit. Kudos to him.
  • Alex Avila? Really? Well, he always did have good starts to the season, perhaps because he hadn’t yet taken 355,419 foul tips off his facemask. Perhaps more limited duty will make him more effective later into the season.
  • Wilson-Wilson-Rodriguez actually works really well as a bullpen. Just need to get it there and all that.
  • I understand the appeal of the World Baseball Classic, I really do, but it’s awful hard for me to say anything nice about it when Miguel Cabrera returns from it with a bad back that is still a problem. Hopefully it’s not serious, and Brad Ausmus should handle the Tropicana Field nonsense with great caution.
  • The Indians are 5-7 and really not hitting, especially with RISP. That will turn, but enjoy it while it lasts.

Game 2017-12: Tigers (7-4) at Indians (5-6)

DETROIT

SP: Matt Boyd

1. Ian Kinsler (2B)
2. Nick Castellanos (3B)
3. Miguel Cabrera (1B)
4. Victor Martinez (DH)
5. Justin Upton (LF)
6. Tyler Collins (RF)
7. Alex Avila (C)
8. Andrew Romine (CF)
9. Jose Iglesias (SS)

CLEVELAND

SP: Carlos Carrasco

1. Carlos Santana (1B)
2. Francisco Lindor (SS)
3. Michael Brantley (LF)
4. Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
5. Jose Ramirez (2B)
6. Brandon Guyer (RF)
7. Yandy Diaz (3B)
8. Austin Jackson (CF)
9. Yan Gomes (C)

RANDOM STUFF: Carlos Carrasco’s ERA against Detroit in 2017 was 0.51 in 17.2 innings. The year prior, it was an even 5. The Tigers still have yet to lose a series in 2017, but will need to beat Cleveland to keep that mark alive. This is Matthew Boyd’s first career start against Cleveland. He faced them once in 2016, tossing 4.2 scoreless innings of relief in a 6-3 loss last April.

Game 7: It’s a first place tie!

A few assorted thoughts after the Detroit Tigers edged the Minnesota Twins 2-1 on Tuesday at Comerica Park:

  • I maintain that Matt(hew?) Boyd is a fifth starter. That’s not meant as a slur. Fifth starters are major leaguers too, and they’re inevitably going to be inconsistent and up and down. Tuesday was an up, and a welcome one. Boyd gave up one hit in his six innings of work, walking two and striking out six. Considering how well Minnesota has been playing of late, that’s not nothing. It’s completely unrealistic to expect him to pitch like this regularly, but if Boyd can eat some innings while putting up half-decent performances with the occasional stinker (last Thursday) and gem (today) mixed in, he’ll be good enough.
  • Shane Greene seems to have all the things you look for in a solid reliever, but the inconsistency is limiting his potential. He throws hard with movement, but his command was bad and he quickly found himself in trouble that Kyle Ryan had to bail him out of. I’ve long been a believer in Greene the reliever and still am, but outings like this make it hard to offer him the really high-leverage spots.
  • No, those should go to Justin Wilson, who seems to know what he’s doing now. He’s always had the stuff — almost 10 Ks per 9 and barely over 2.5 BB/9 look like a tantalizingly talented reliever, and his ERA was worse than his FIP by nearly a full run — but he seems to be mixing his pitches better now and being smarter with his breaking ball usage. As far as I’m concerned, he’s your primary setup man until further notice.
  • Ah, K-Rod. The nickname is a misnomer now. You can still see glimpses of what makes the guy effective still — some of the swings in the 9th today bordered on silliness — and the base hit he allowed to Joe Mauer was a complete fluke. However, Rodriguez’s game is more mental than anything else at this point. He doesn’t have the pure stuff to overpower guys anymore, so it’s a chess match of outwitting his opponents and disrupting their timing. If he fails to do that or misses with his location, bad things can happen. More often than not, he’ll succeed. Such is life.
  • James McCann’s OPS is about 700 points higher than Miguel Cabrera’s.
  • The offense really hasn’t gotten going yet, which is good and bad. It’s good because Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Upton have done absolutely nothing of note, and J.D. Martinez has yet to play in a game, and yet they’re still 5-2. Of course, the concern is that this is what they are. I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s something to watch, because the likes of McCann will inevitably regress.
  • How is Nick Castellanos only hitting .259? It feels like everything he’s swung at has been hit hard somewhere.
  • The Twins will win plenty of games if they pitch like that consistently. Problem is, I’m not all that sold on the notion that they will.

Next: Minnesota (Gibson) at Detroit (Fulmer), Wednesday, 1:10 PM ET