I think Al Avila could be a genius at tanking. Sure, you know the Tigers will be bad, but Avila is trying to scratch out extra losses here or there by making seemingly poor decisions that are, in fact, great decisions if you realize Avila’s goal: Losing.
Let’s start with his first decision of the off-season. He hired an old-school, anti-analytics manager to manage in a time when every team is trying to squeeze out an advantage from every piece of data. The Tigers? They will be bunting. Think about it. It is the perfect stealth tanking hire. Bring in an experienced manager who looks like a reasonable hire when, in fact, it is simply Avila trying to use reverse analytics to get extra losses due to uninformed managing.
Next, let’s look at Leonys Martin. He was a fine signing when it was assumed he was a back of the order batter. Maybe be able to get something for him at the trade deadline. It looked like low risk, high upside. In reality, it is taking a below average hitter and giving him the most at-bats (I was going to write plate appearances but I don’t think he’ll walk enough for there to be much difference) in order to get another loss or two.
Finally, the opening day starter was obviously going to be Michael Fulmer but that would give the Tigers the best chance to win. Short of bringing Anibal Sanchez back to start opening day, Jordan Zimmermann is the next best thing. The Tigers can shield themselves behind the facade of saying it is due to his veteran experience but if you can get Zimmermann as many starts as possible, the number of losses goes up.
These are not dumb decisions that the Tigers are making if you look at it from the perspective that it does the Tigers no good to be the 19th best team in baseball instead of the 29th best team. That just gives them a worse draft pick. And less pool money. Every loss matters and the Tigers are doing the little things to make sure they find every disadvantage they can.