When the 2015 season ended, it was more of a relief than a bother. Truly, the season didn't end in October, but rather on July 29 when Dave Dombrowski announced that the Tigers would be selling off their expiring contracts at the trade deadline. Then Dombrowski was unceremoniously let go, and the Tigers pinched their nose and finished off the season as painlessly as possible.
Incoming GM Al Avila had his work cut out for him, to be sure. The starting rotation was in shambles, two-thirds of the outfield was missing, the bullpen had been dead so long it stopped smelling, and to top it all off he had to try to fix this mess on a pretty tight budget.
Personally, I felt that the offseason could only go a few directions: either the Tigers would double-down on their big-name philosophy and continue the push for a championship, or they would take a step back, embrace the "reboot," and let things settle out for a year.
The win-now approach would require either the sale of the remaining prospects, or blowing through the luxury tax threshold like it wasn't even there -- or both. The reboot approach wouldn't be a full fire sale, but rather an aim at hanging around the middle of the pack and letting things settle out for a year. If everything went perfectly, hoping for a wild card berth, but otherwise focusing on 2017 and beyond.
As it turned out, Avila found some middle ground. They did stick to tradition by filling holes with big-name stars -- sort of. Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton each signed contracts guaranteeing them in excess of $100 million, but neither was considered to be among the truly elite in this year's loaded free agent class. More importantly, both players are on the under 30 years old, and neither contract will take them past age-34. So these aren't your typical big-name contracts, which almost always become wasted money by the end.
|Sept. 26||Announced Brad Ausmus and his coaching staff would return for the 2016 season.||News leaked on September 10th that Ausmus would be fired at season's end.|
|Oct. 29||Rich Dubee announced as the new pitching coach.||Former pitching coach Jeff Jones announced his retirement after the season.|
|Nov. 18||Tigers traded for Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers for Javier Betancourt and Manny Pina.||K-Rod will make $7.5 million in 2016 and has a team option for 2017 worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout.|
|Nov. 20||Tigers traded for Cameron Maybin from the Braves for Ian Krol and Gabe Speier.||Krol was acquired in the infamous Doug Fister trade, and Speier was included in the Yoenis Cespedes trade.|
|Nov. 30||Signed free agent Jordan Zimmermann.||Zimmermann agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract|
|Dec. 6||Signed free agent Mike Pelfrey.||Pelfrey signed a two-year, $16 million contract|
|Dec. 6||Signed free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia.||The Tigers will pay Saltalamacchia the major-league minimum, since the Marlins are responsible for the rest of his salary.|
|Dec. 8||Signed free agent Mark Lowe.||Lowe will make $5.5 million for two years.|
|Dec. 9||Tigers traded for Justin Wilson from the Yankees for Luis Cessa and Chad Green.||Wilson later agreed to a one-year, $1.525 millions contract to avoid arbitration.|
|Dec. 18||Signed free agent Mike Aviles.||Mike Aviles can play multiple positions and will earn $2 million in 2016.|
|Jan. 20||Signed free agent Justin Upton||Upton has a French Bulldog named Wayne.|
Even with the additions of Zimmermann and Upton, Avila didn't have to mortgage the future as much as you might expect. He did surpass the budget, but that budget was merely a suggestion anyway, and Mike Ilitch doesn't like being told what to do.
The Tigers added over $70 million in payroll, including a potential $44 million annual commitment through 2021, but they've gone from last-place to on-paper contenders. They aren't the unanimous favorites to win their division like they were in recent years, but they look to have as good a chance as anyone. And Avila achieved that without trading away any of the organization's best young players, save Luis Cessa.
Avila received an 84 percent approval rating in our last poll, which was conducted after the acquisitions of K-Rod and Maybin, but prior to the Zimmermann signing. Since then, Avila has made a flurry of moves and assembled a team that looks to be a contender for one of the toughest division in baseball.
So now that we've seen most of his first offseason, do you feel confident in Avila's ability to field a contending team in 2016 and beyond?