DETROIT -- No member of Mike Ilitch's family was present. A statement from the departing president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was not made, after being with the team for 14 years. And Al Avila, incoming vice president and general manager for the Detroit Tigers, did not know how or why he was handed the job.
The move makes little sense from a logical standpoint. Judging by Avila's and Ilitch's remarks, the Tigers are going to make a run at the postseason this year. That was the plan right up until the end, when the team became sellers. Dombrowski made the team decisions, but they weren't finalized until Ilitch signed off on it. Avila approved. The course was set. Then, the unexpected announcement that Dombrowski had been released came Tuesday afternoon.
"I think we're all in shock -- not in shock -- but surprised," Avila stated. "But at the end of the day, I don't know how he came to the conclusion. That's really a question for him. So I really don't have an answer for that."
The announcement surprised not only the team. It left fans reeling and the media was taken aback. It is highly unusual of a team to make such an extreme move so soon after the deadline when the team -- through Dombrowski -- acknowledged this season was out of reach. How the change was handled -- without an orderly and official manner, to include the lack of Ilitch family being present -- was uncharacteristic of the team's front office as it has been seen in the past.
This was a decision that the Tigers' owner made on Saturday, the day after the trade deadline. Avila received the call on his way home to Detroit. With a request from Ilitch that Avila hold off on announcing the move until Ilitch made it. So, if Avila was informed on Saturday that he was replacing Dombrowski and signed the contract on Tuesday, then who made the decision to call up left-handed starter Matt Boyd, acquired in the David Price trade? The logical conclusion would point to Avila, but that's a question that goes unanswered until otherwise stated.
"(Ilitch) wasn't giving me a big explanation," Avila said. "He basically said that he was committed to win. He wanted me to take over the team, and lead us in the future. The main focus was, ‘I'm committed to win. I want you to take this job, and I want you to run with it. And make sure you know, the foot is on the pedal, hard.' And that's what he wants."
Ilitch's remarks stated the team had "some success" with Dombrowski, while admitting at the same time that the team is still in "aggressive pursuit" of a title in 2015. It set a confusing tone. Dombrowski wasn't fired, according to the team. He was "released." Ausmus and the players weren't even notified until Tuesday prior to the game. Selling went against the grain of the recent history of the Tigers. That much was obvious. But from the team's record, it was the correct call. Yet, Ilitch -- along with Avila -- is dead set on pursuing a World Series title this year.
Like Dombrowski, Avila's contract with the Tigers was up after this season. According to Avila, in the last "five or six years" he granted the team the ability to deny another team speaking to him about openings, with the knowledge that he was not first in line to take over the GM spot, if available. It is Avila's intent to remain with the team for the foreseeable future. And while he wouldn't comment on the status of his contract, MLive's Chris Iott later learned through a source that Avila's contract is for five years.
"I do have a contract, I signed the contract today, but I don't want to really expound on the contract at this point," Avila remarked at the time. "It's a number of years that is long enough that will give you the security that you need to continue to build on a winning tradition."
A winning tradition that is still missing a World Series title. The team will be reevaluated at the end of the season, and there may well be moves made at that point. But for now, the Tigers will retain all of its staff, to include Ausmus. The release stated that Dombrowski was released from his contract "in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities," and an executive told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that Dombrowski and Ilitch agreed to part ways mutually with "no hard feelings."
With that being said, while both Avila and Ilitch may be dead set on pursuing a World Series title this year, that's easier said than done. The core is solid and Miguel Cabrera should return to the team in a couple of weeks. But the Tigers have a lot of ground to make up. And with the Royals on a tear through the American League, it's not going to be easy.
"We're going to put all our efforts to try and win this year," he said. "I do believe in my heart that we still can make a run and get into the playoffs. We have a young catcher. We have a young shortstop. We still have Miguel Cabrera. We have a young center fielder in Gose. J.D. Martinez, one of the best hitters in the game. Castellanos, he's only 22 years old and he's having a good year.
"We have the nucleus that we need to move forward in the future with the addition of just a few guys this coming offseason. And we'll be able to make another run at it. But this year is still the focus."
The Tigers have a secure base, to be sure. But for Detroit to get back in the race this year, it's going to take the team going on a ridiculous run and a lot of luck. Avila may not be restricted in payroll terms, but he'll likely going to need to stay within reason. That is, unless Ilitch goes off the track and completely disregards spending limits.
Still, the Tigers have to perform well above the .500 level, and, well, that's been a problem. Yet, Avila doesn't think it's out of the realm of possibilities. For now, everyone's just along for Ilitch's ride.