Looking Back in Tigers’ History and Evaluating All of Al Avila’s Moves as the Tigers’ GM: Part II (2015-2016)

In part I, we looked back on the highs and lows of Dombrowski’s tenure with the Tigers. Now, in part II, we will evaluate the work of Al Avila thus far, assessing all of his moves, big and small, from 2016, to the present. Minors leagues who were signed will only be included if they exceed 100 PAs or 50 IPs. Trivial trades (such as C Bryan Holaday for RHP Myles Jaye and C Bobby Wilson) will be excluded.

August 20th, 2015 – Tigers traded cash to the Blue Jays for LHP Randy Wolf

Grade at time of acquisition: B

The Tigers were in desperate need of SP innings, with Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris both going on the DL. Wolf made his debut in 1999 (was 38 at time of the trade) and performed exceptionally in AAA over 139 innings, putting up a 1.28 WHIP and 2.58 ERA. The Tigers only had to pay him around $0.04 million for his services.

Grade in retrospect: D

He performed horribly in 34 innings, having an ERA north of 6. With that being said, he ate some innings down the stretch; therefore, the Tigers didn’t need to rush their injured SPs back into the rotation or call up prospects who were not yet ready.

November 18th, 2015 – Tigers traded 2B Javier Betancourt and C Manny Piña to the Brewers for RHP Fransisco Rodriguez

Grade at time of acquisition: B-

Neftali Feliz, who was closing games for the Tigers down the stretch, opted for free agency, which meant Avila had a glaring hole to fill: a ninth inning man. K-Rod was that guy; he had a 9.79 K/9 and a 2.21 ERA with the Brewers in 2015; he additionally racked up 38 saves. Franscico Rodriguez was no stranger to the closer role, having accumulated 386 career saves to that point. At last, it appeared the Tigers could have a closer they could count on. Some issues I had with this deal included K-Rod’s declining velocity (in part due to his age, which was in the mid-30s) and his hefty salary (around $7.5 million). Javier Betancourt had little power and never hit for a high average in the minors. Piña was a 28-year-old catcher who was blocked by James McCann. He did hit well for the Toledo Mud Hens though (average above .300 and 7 HRs, along with a 11% K rate).

Grade in retrospect: E

Francisco Rodriguez had a decent first season with the Tigers; he saved 44 games and had an ERA in the low 3s. His performance aligned with his pay ($7.5 million). What really brings down his grade is his 2017 collapse. He had an ERA in the 7s and he blew 6 games in 25 innings. The Tigers released him in mid-May, still having to pay the $6 million they owed him. K-Rod should have refused the money, for he did nothing but disappoint. Javier Betancourt was released by the Brewers in May of 2018. Manny Piña has been worth 3.3 WAR over the last 3 years for the Brewers and is their starting catcher; he is a great defender and would be an improvement over Grayson Greiner (Tigers’ projected starting C for the 2019 season).

November 20th, 2015 – Tigers traded LHP Ian Krol and LHP Gabe Speier to the Braves for CF Cameron Maybin

Grade at time of acquisition: A

The Tigers needed a CF and Maybin would presumably fill that role. He stole 20+ bases in 2015 and hit for a .267 AVG and only struck out around 18% of the time. He was relatively young at the time of the deal (28) so he had some upside. Ian Krol had an ERA just below 5 in 2015 with the Tigers and had trouble finding the strike zone. Speier, the other left-handed-reliever heading to the Braves, struck out very few batters (7.36 K/9) at a low level (A), so scouts didn’t have much praise to say about him.

Grade in retrospect: A+

Maybin was spectacular with the Tigers despite missing the first month of the season with a fractured left wrist. He stole 15 bases and had a .315 AVG. He was worth 2.3 WAR even though injuries shortened his season big time. He served as a catalyst and his presence brought up the spirts and performance of his peers. On the flip side of the deal, Ian Krol had a solid season for the Braves in 2016, producing an ERA in the low 3s with a good strikeout rate (nearly 10 K/9) and a much improved walk rate (in the 2s). Maybin also netted the Tigers a RHP pitching prospect from the Angels in the beginning of the 2015 offseason: Victor Alcantara, who contributed to the team in 2018 as a member of the bullpen. Krol’s performance was unsustainable as he was worth -0.2 WAR the following season. He ended the season pitching for the Angels’ AAA affiliate. Gabe Speier never actually pitched an inning for the Braves (not even for any of their minor league affiliates). He is now on the Royals, pitching in AA.

November 30th, 2015 – Tigers signed RHP Jordan Zimmerman for 5 years and $110 million

Grade at time of acquisition: C-

The Tigers were looking to sign a #2/3 SP to pair up with JV. From 2010-15, Jordan Zimmerman was just that, producing anywhere from 3.0 WAR to 5.3 WAR. That level of production warrants a large pay check, which the Tigers were willing to dish out. The reason I was concerned at the time of the trade was his declining fastball velocity, which resulted in fewer whiffs…

2014: 94.5 MPH / 8.2%

2015: 93.7 MPH / 5.6%

Handing out a huge contract like that to a guy with potential injury concerns is a risky gamble.

Grade in retrospect: E

Zimmerman’s WAR in his first three seasons with the Tigers totals 3.2. In his final season with the Nats, he was worth virtually the same (3.0 WAR). The Tigers are paying him to pitch like a #2/3 SP, but his statline resembles that of a backend starter. The dwindling FB velocity trend has unfortunately continued…

2016: 92.5 MPH / 5.1%

2017: 92.2 MPH / 5.5%

2018: 91.2 MPH / 3.7%

While age seems to be taking a hold of him, there is rebound potential. This past season, Zimm’s offspeed pitches all generated a high percentage of swings and misses…

Slider: 14.7%

Curveball: 12.7%

Changeup: 11.4%

He threw his FB 43% of the time and his changeup 5.5%. If he can throw his changeup more frequently and cut down on his fastball usage, he could potentially become a #3 starter. Hitters slugged off both pitches, hitting for a .315 AVG off the FB and an AVG north of .400 off the CH, which is highly unusual considering the high swing and miss rate on the pitch. Maybe the sample (130 times thrown) is simply not large enough to come to any conclusion (about the effectiveness of his CH). In November, 2018, Zimmerman had core muscle repair surgery; luckily, it went well. Hopefully, he remains healthy and becomes the pitcher the Tigers first envisioned when they signed him.

December 6th, 2015 – Tigers signed RHP Mike Pelfrey for 2 years and $16 million

Grade at time of acquisition: C-

Pelfrey would provide some depth at the back of the rotation and could serve as a veteran presence in the locker room. He was coming off a season in which he had an ERA in the low 4s and was worth 2.1 WAR the season prior. This signing was risky because gambling on a guy who strikes out very few batters (4.7 K/9) to maintain an ERA in the low 4s is not a safe bet.

Grade in retrospect: D-

Pelfrey had a 5.07 ERA in 119 innings pitched. He pitched more like a #6 starter, and his record was 4-10. The Tigers decided to let him go in Spring Training of 2017. They ended up paying him $8 million to pitch for the Chicago White Sox.

December 6th, 2015 – Tigers signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 1 year and $1.25 million

Grade at time of acquisition: C

Saltalamacchia had pretty good power for a C (against RHP) and could platoon with James McCann. His defense was lackluster though. The contract was for 1 year and a low pay, so this deal was not as risky as the aforementioned ones.

Grade in retrospect: D

Saltalamacchia hit below the “Mendoza line” and was worth -7 DRS. He did hit for some good power though (12 HRs) and walked at a high clip (14%). He had an awesome April.

December 8th, 2015 – Tigers signed RHP Mark Lowe for 2 years and $11 million

Grade at time of acquisition: B+

Mark Lowe was supposed to bolster the back end of the bullpen. He was coming off a break-out season in which he put up an ERA below 2 and struck out almost 10 batters / 9 IP. When he was traded to Blue Jays (at the trade deadline), he struggled mightily with them. Additionally, 2015 was the only good season of his long career (32-years-old when Tigers signed him).

Grade in retrospect: F

Lowe was terrible with the Tigers. He started the season with the eighth inning role, but ended the season as the mop-up man. His ERA was in the 7s. The Tigers cut him in spring training of 2017, paying him $5.5 million to pitch for the Mariners AAA affiliate.

December 9th, 2015 – Tigers traded RHP Chad Green and RHP Luis Cessa to the Yankees for LHP Justin Wilson

Grade at time of acquisition: C

Al Avila welcomed a 3rd new reliever to Motown in his effort to improve the Tigers’ Achilles heel: the bullpen. Wilson should do just that. He was worth 1.5 WAR with the Yankees in 2015 with an ERA in the low 3s. He was under control for 3 seasons. Chad Green was an under-the-radar prospect who struck out around 8 batters / 9 IP in AA with a WHIP around 1.4 (not very good). Luis Cessa (second piece in trade that sent Cespedes to the Mets) was another SP prospect who struggled; he had an ERA north of 6 in AAA.

Grade in retrospect: C

This trade is very tough to evaluate. Chad Green, one of the RHPs the Tigers sent to the Yankees, has become an excellent reliever, capable of going multiple innings. He has accumulated 4.2 WAR in his 3 years with the Yanks. Cessa has bounced between AAA and the MLB and looks like he falls under the classification of a AAAA player. Justin Wilson was alright in his first season in Detroit; his ERA hovered in the low 4s. In 2016, he was very good with the Tigers. His ERA was 2.68 and he struck out 55 batters in 41 innings; therefore, the Tigers were able to flip Wilson and C Alex Avila to the Cubs for 3B Jeimer Candelario and 2B Isaac Paredes. Candelario is the Tigers’ current starting 3B and performed well this past season. Paredes has higher upside than Candelario, but his arrival is still ways away. He is ranked as the 43rd best prospect according to Fangraphs’ most recent top 131 list.

December 18th, 2015 – Tigers signed for Mike Aviles for 1 year and $2 million

Grade at time of acquisition: E

Mike Aviles was on the wrong side of 30 (34 years old) and was terrible with the Indians in 2015, recording a -0.9 WAR. The Tigers already had a utility infielder in Andrew Romine.

Grade in retrospect: E

Aviles hit for a .210 AVG and had 1 HR. He was worth -1.3 WAR.

January 20th, 2016 – Tigers signed Justin Upton for 6 years and $132.75 million

Grade at time of acquisition: B

If the Tigers genuinely wanted to return to being a playoff contender, then filling the hole left by trading Yoenis Cespedes should’ve been a priority. Just when everyone thought the Tigers were prepared to go into the season with Mikie Mahtook as the starting LF, the Tigers pulled a rabbit out of the hat; they signed LF Justin Upton, a former 1st overall pick (2005 draft) to a massive contract. In his 7 previous seasons, he invariably put up a WAR above 2.5 (in 2011, he was worth around 6 WAR). He was 28 at the time of the signing, so age was still on his side. The Tigers would be able to count on him to steal some bags, hit plenty of HRs, and get on base. It is important to note that Upton was widely known as a streaky hitter.

Grade in hindsight: B+

Justin Upton first season with the Tigers was streaky to say the least…

4/5 – 8/19

PAs: 470

AVG: .226

HRs: 13

8/20 – 10/02

PAs: 156

AVG: .309

HRs: 18

But in the end, he was worth basically 2 WAR. His play did not completely merit his annual pay (about $22 million), but Tigers’ fans were optimistic of what Upton would be capable of doing in 2017 if 2nd half Upton would be showing up on a regular basis. Upton catapulted the Tigers into the AL Wild Card in 2016 through his second half surge.

In 2017, Upton performed exceptionally well for the Tigers as well…

4/4 – 8/30

PAs: 520

AVG: .279

HRs: 28

The Tigers decided to flip Upton to the Angels for two minor pitchers before the August waiver deadline: SP Grayson Long and SP Elvin Rodriguez. The former of the two missed all of 2018 due to thoracic outlet syndrome. The latter had a solid season at A, with 8.66 K/9 and a 3.34 ERA.

January 27th, 2016 – Tigers traded 3B Jefry Marte to the Angels for 2B Kody Eaves

Grade at time of acquisition: E

I found this move quite perplexing and felt it didn’t align with Al Avila’s other moves. Trading Jefry Marte, who put up a .275 AVG and 15 HRs in AAA, as well as 4 HRs in 90 major league PAs, for a 2B who hit for a .240ish AVG and 10 HRs in A+, just didn’t make sense.

Grade in retrospect: F

Though Jefry Marte has put up negative WAR the last two seasons, he was worth 1.5 WAR in 2015. That year, he hit for a .252 AVG and 15 homers in less than 300 PAs. Kody Eaves had a .209 AVG and with 4 HRs in just under 300 PAs in AA this past season. Marte has spent time in the majors the last 3 years while Eaves has a mere 82 AAA PAs on his resume.

May 3rd, 2016 – Tigers traded C Bobby Wilson to the Rangers for LHP Chad Bell

Grade at time of acquisition: A

Bobby Wilson was a 32-year-old backstop (C) who had never hit for an AVG above .237 in his career. Chad Bell was a LHP put up really solid numbers with the Rangers’ AA affiliate: a 4.58 ERA and 3.56 xFIP. He was 26 at the time of the trade. Bell was younger than Wilson and had more upside.

Grade in retrospect: C

Both players put up terrible numbers in the MLB. Bobby Wilson had a .237 AVG and .270 OBP in 2017 with three different teams and hit for a .178 AVG with the Twins this past season. Chad Bell had a 6.93 ERA in 2017 and recently signed a contract with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization, per Fangraphs.

August 16th, 2016 – Tigers traded C Jade Scivicque and SS Mike Aviles to the Braves for SS Erick Aybar

Grade at time of acquisition: A

Jade Scivicque hit for a .242 AVG in A and his upside was that of a backup catcher. Mike Aviles hurt the Tigers more than he helped them, but he was included to offset salaries. At the time of the deal, infielders Nick Castellanos and Jose Iglesias were both on the DL. Aybar would provide some depth and fill in until Castellanos and Iglesias recuperateD.

Grade in retrospect: A

Jade Scivicque played only 1 game in AAA before the Braves released him this past season; subsequently, the Tigers resigned him. Mike Aviles did not play in one game with the Braves in 2016. Erick Aybar had a .250 AVG and .341 OBP in 91 PAs, assisting the Tigers in staying afloat in the Wild Card race.

November 3rd, 2016 – Tigers traded CF Cameron Maybin to the Angels for RHP Victor Alcantara

Grade at time of acquisition: E

In my opinion, Cameron Maybin was one of the Tigers most exciting players and they missed his presence dearly when he was on the DL. The Tigers could have picked up his $9 million option for 2017, but they were so determined to shed salary, so they decided to move him for “something”. “Nothing” would be a better descriptor. Victor Alcantara had a 4.30 ERA in AA and a 4.62 BB/9.

Grade in retrospect: C

Cameron Maybin had a disappointing 2017 season with the Angels. Maybin had a .235 AVG and .333 OBP; he did however steal 29 bases with them and continued to get on base at a high rate. Victor Alcantara had a 2.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 2018 (around 30 IP) for the Tigers. His 6.30 K/9 leaves a lot to be desired though.

December 8th, 2016 – Tigers claimed LHP Daniel Stumpf off of waivers from the Royals

Grade at time of acquisition: A

Stumpf was 24 at the time and pitched very well at AA (in the Royals organization). He had a 2.11 ERA, 10.97 K/9, and 1.69 BB/9 in 21 IP. He looked like he could be a viable bullpen arm.

Grade in retrospect: C

Stumpf was worth 0.4 WAR the last two seasons. His ERA was 3.82 in 2017, but in the following year, he had a ERA in the high 4s. It didn’t cost Tigers much of anything to acquire him in the Rule 5 draft though.

December 23rd, 2016 – Tigers signed C Alex Avila for 1 year and $2 million

Grade at time of acquisition: A

Al Avila deciding to bring his son back to Detroit was a great decision. Avila was already familiar with the Tigers’ pitching staff from his previous stint with the team (2009-15), and he had a reputation of being a very capable game caller. Despite the fact that he hit for a .213 AVG in 2017, he frequently got on base (.359 OBP). This was a low risk signing.

Grade in retrospect: A+

Alex Avila made his dad proud. He had a .274 AVG, along with 11 HRs in 264 PAs. His strong performance boosted his trade stock. The Cubs traded Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes for Avila and Justin Wilson. As mentioned earlier, Jeimer Candelario has become the Tigers’ starting 3B and will be around when the Tigers are competitive again and Isaac Paredes is the 2B of the future for the Tigers. His stock has risen significantly since the trade.

2015 (9 moves)

Average grade at time of acquisition: C+

  • Average grade for trades (4): B
  • Average grade for free agent signings (5): D

Average grade in retrospect: D

  • Average grade for trades: D+
  • Average grade for free agent signings: F

The trades Al Avila made looked good initially, but in the end, they negatively impacted the Tigers. His free agent signings were very poor.

2016 (7 moves)

Average grade at time of acquisition: B-

  • Average grade for trades (4): D+
  • Average grade for free agent signings (2): B+

Average grade in retrospect: B-

  • Average grade for trades: D+
  • Average grade for free agent signings: A-

Al Avila’s trades were lackluster once again, but his two free agent signings worked out very well (Alex Avila and J-Up).

In part II continued, we will evaluate Avila’s moves from 2017 to the present.

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