Tuesday morning, it was announced that the Minnesota Twins had claimed right-handed pitcher Beau Burrows off waivers. The 24-year-old was designated for assignment after his lone major league game of the season, vacating the roster spot that would eventually be used to bring Matt Manning to the Tigers.
Burrows, the Tigers’ 2015 first-round pick, didn’t get much of a chance in the big leagues before being given up on by the team. The COVID year had some impact on that, but more than anything the Tigers waited a long time to convert Burrows to relief and give him a chance at finding a role.
To be honest, losing Burrows to another team isn’t much more than a mild annoyance. His star has faded since his days of being a top prospect within the organization. As a power pitcher in high school, his fastball backed up a bit in pro ball and he was never able to sharpen his breaking balls into real weapons. In 2019 he dealt with shoulder inflammation and an oblique issue, struggling for most of the year. Far from a lost cause though, he did recapture his old velocity this year, sitting 94-95 mph with better life on his fastball, and is still young enough to be molded into a competent reliever.
What makes this move annoying isn’t that Burrows is some unbelievable hidden talent. It’s that the Tigers have yet again horked up a pointlessly wasteful roster move, undermining their own efforts to incrementally improve.
In all seriousness, I'm not expecting Beau Burrows to be claimed by another team and go on to a Hall of Fame career with multiple Cy Young awards.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) June 16, 2021
But if he does.....the Tigers will have lost him in order to have 2 days of Miguel Del Pozo not pitching. https://t.co/VLd9SirVK3
If the Tigers felt that they needed to clear a pitcher from the roster, the choice to keep Del Pozo around instead of Burrows is difficult to understand, to put things politely. Burrows may not have been impressive this spring, but at least he’s young, with enough tools to potentially benefit from a bit of tinkering. Del Pozo has been around professional baseball long enough to have played for a Florida Marlins affiliate, and in that time, has zero track record of success and was never considered a prospect of any import. He’s left-handed, and there aren’t many other features upon which to comment.
There is also some fat that could have been trimmed elsewhere on the roster. Even if the Tigers are dead set on keeping Del Pozo in Toledo for some reason, a cursory examination yields a number of other players who could likely have sailed through waivers unscathed — catcher Grayson Greiner or pitcher Erasmo Ramirez spring to mind.
Another juicy target for expunging from the roster is outfielder Nomar Mazara. As a reclamation project, his 66 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR through 39 games would seem to indicate that the Tigers have not reclaimed him. His $1.75 million contract is hardly enough to warrant special treatment under some sunken cost fallacy. With plenty of replacement level depth in the minors, the Tigers could have found a way to paper over the loss of his minimal production.
The fact is that aside from the Rule 5 draft, in which Avila has performed surprising well during his years as general manager, the Tigers have been generally terrible at gauging talent and managing the back end of the roster. Too often, momentary has trumped the longer view, which is a bad habit when you’re not even trying to win anyway.
Avila’s pattern of wastefulness at the bottom of the roster extends throughout his tenure as general manager. He’s routinely kept guys who he acquired on the roster and cut players who he has less attachment to for the sake of optics or a misplaced sense of loyalty rather than simply cut the worst player in the batch in favor of a more intriguing one.
Also, consider that former Tigers pitching prospects Anthony Castro and Will Vest are capably pitching in the majors elsewhere. Castro never even got a real look in what should have been an obvious relief profile because they were busily using him to fill holes in a Double-A roster rather than focusing on developing him in the bullpen. They were right about giving veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal another shot, but then fumbled the execution and quit on him just because they needed a usable arm in the midst of a season that mattered not one bit. That’s all while insisting on hanging onto infielders Dawel Lugo and Sergio Alcantara, who were clearly not worthy of a place on the 40-man roster of even the worst team in baseball. None of those choices would be impactful in a vacuum, but they add up over time.
That’s not to mention fully botching the development, usage, and subsequent contract negotiations of Nick Castellanos and James McCann, which is a whole different can of worms and probably deserve an extra thousand words of their own. All teams make mistakes, but the consistent squandering of assets is not how a rebuilding team is supposed to proceed.
For the Tigers to succeed without the spending flexibility that would supercharge their efforts, they need to find contributors hidden in the discard pile, rather than being the one serving them up. That’s one of the reasons the Rays stay afloat even in their lean years. Heck, even the Dodgers find stables pieces for their MLB roster among the rejects despite their willingness to write big checks to known quantities. The common denominator among those players is that they have enough talent to constitute believable upside and enough youth for that upside to yet be realized.
You know who fits that description to a tee? Minnesota Twins pitcher Beau Burrows.
There’s no magic potion to make a team competitive again. If there was an easily understood, plug-and-play recipe to building a World Series winner, every team could do it. However, some ingredients are simply too obvious to ignore. The Tigers can’t expect to improve into a consistent contender down the road if they keep frittering away minor opportunities that could be their stepping stones to incremental improvement.
Losing Burrows to the Twins probably won’t come back to haunt Detroit at all. The same can’t be said for Al Avila and his track record of wasteful roster management. Too many times, he has passively allowed someone else to have the edge by getting caught up in a short term need or failing to cash in a trade at a players’ peak in value. For a team that has little going for it but hope for the future, that’s a strange way to do business. It’s past time that he take better care of the tedious, granular transactions that make up the bulk of roster construction.
In the next year, assuming things go well, the Tigers are going to begin facing tougher choices in managing their 40-man roster. Decisions won’t be as simple as picking between a host of players unlikely to have any impact at all. The collective burden of seemingly insignificant, but ultimately wasteful choices could remain a minor drag on their rebuilding effort as they look to take the next steps toward becoming a winning baseball club again.