About three weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers' organization pulled off one of the most dramatic reversals of trade-deadline strategies in recent history. They went from buyers on July 29 to sellers on July 30 and traded their staff ace (David Price), their closer (Joakim Soria) and one of their top position players (Yoenis Cespedes). Now it's time for them to focus on contending for a title in 2016.
Al Avila, former Tigers general manager David Dombrowski's longtime right-hand man and the team's new GM, is one of the most respected talent evaluators in the game and has long been deserving of this opportunity. However, he also is inheriting one of the largest payrolls in baseball with $415 million in player payroll commitments through 2023, the fifth-highest total in baseball behind only the Dodgers, Yankees, Mariners and Red Sox.
The team's recent unwillingness to pay market value to retain aces Price and Max Scherzer suggests it likely won't be able to fix its starting pitching woes solely through free agency this fall. The signing of 36-year-old designated hitter Victor Martinez to a four-year contract last winter rather than allocating those dollars for starting pitching will be a decision that further hampers Avila unless he can pay down the salary and find a taker that is desperate for a bat.
The goal of Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and Co. is to win a World Series and win it now. This will not be a rebuilding plan, but rather a quick reboot with the hopes of getting back to the postseason next fall.
So how does Avila go about getting the Tigers back on track? Well, it starts with improving the starting rotation with a key addition or two, followed by a dramatic rebuild of the bullpen, which was the Tigers' Achilles' heel in the Dombrowski tenure. They also need to balance their lineup with more left-handed hitters.
The Tigers will have to be active in free agency and also find ways to make trades to solve their needs and get back to the playoffs. In addition, Avila will immediately emphasize an improvement in terms of amateur drafts and international signings, though it would take three to five years before those improvements have an impact at the major league level.
One other thing I should address: The Tigers' GM should make the difficult decision of letting his son, Alex Avila, leave via free agency. Both father and son will be better off without having to deal with nepotism issues, and Tigers catcher James McCann has the potential to be an All-Star-caliber backstop; he needs to play every day. Avila would be a good fit with the Mariners, sharing duties with Mike Zunino.
So how do the Tigers reboot and get right back in the race? Here are some ideas: