DETROIT – Owner Chris Ilitch said Friday that he’s “very pleased” with the Detroit Tigers’ progress, even though they’re 16 games below .500 and completely out of the playoff race by July in the sixth year of a rebuild.
Ilitch joined Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman on Friday (July 1) to introduce new head coach Derek Lalonde, who came over from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
During the introductory press conference, Ilitch was also asked about the Tigers.
“I’m very pleased with the progress at the Detroit Red Wings, and I’m very pleased with the progress at the Detroit Tigers, despite a very slow start this season for our team,” Ilitch said. “There’s actually some good progress happening with some of the young guys that have come up and developed, and so on and so forth.”
You can listen to Ilitch’s comments on the Tigers in the video above.
The Tigers, at 29-45, are 74 games into their 162-game season (45.7%). A “slow start” would be a bad April, maybe a losing streak in the first half of May. Being almost twice as close to the worst record in baseball (6 games) as you are to first place (11.5 games) by the end of June is quite a bit different.
See, it’s not that the Tigers will miss the playoffs -- that was always the most likely outcome this season, even though MLB increased the number of postseason teams to six in each league. Missing the playoffs in 2022 is a perfectly acceptable outcome for the Tigers, if they would just show certain signs of progress.
The frustrating part of this season is that before summer even arrived, the games no longer mattered. Years of rebuilding were supposed to lead up to this moment, when all the mind-numbing months of losing finally gave way to a bit of hope.
But that hasn’t been the case. In fact, since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2014, only once have the Tigers been worse heading into July than this year’s team. Think about that: The 2022 Detroit Tigers have performed worse than those atrocious rosters from 2017, 2018, and 2020.
The prospect hype. The offseason signings. Last year’s encouraging finish. So far, it’s all added up to the Tigers being even worse.
That’s why fans are frustrated.
“There’s temptation, and there’s all types of influence and pressure to try and rush the process,” Ilitch said.
Tigers fans, you’re forgiven if this answer triggered an involuntary roll of the eyes. Asking for a World Series in 2018 would have been pressuring ownership to “rush the process,” but now, midway through a sixth straight summer without any meaningful baseball, this line is getting a bit tired.
Al Avila told fans the rebuild was over, and that should have meant the city’s patience -- because, yes, Tigers fans have been patient -- was about to pay off. Instead, the team cratered so fast that playoff baseball became a pipe dream by mid-May.
On Friday, Ilitch gave Avila a vote of confidence by referencing the title team he helped build in Miami. For the young fans out there, their last World Series was in 2003, so long ago that A.J. Hinch was on the field wearing the Old English D, not managing from the dugout.
“You realize -- and having seen our own Detroit Red Wings championship teams of the past -- you realize that it’s a process, and it takes time, and there really are no shortcuts,” Ilitch said.
It’s a fair point. Rebuilding professional sports franchises does take time, and I think Tigers fans understand that. That’s why for the past half-decade, they’ve put up with the fact that Eric SeaWolves box scores meant more than the actual outcome of Detroit Tigers games.
But telling fans that there aren’t any shortcuts in the sixth year of a rebuild is like telling the passenger in your car that there’s no shortcut to your dinner reservation when you’ve been driving in circles around the cul-de-sac.
Tigers fans aren’t screaming for a World Series right now.
They. Just. Want. Progress.
“You need to obviously bring in the young talent,” Ilitch said. “You need to develop your players into NHL players or Major League Baseball players, and then you need to assemble them all at the right time and fill in gaps with free agents and trades, and then you’ve got to compete, and get some breaks along the way for it all to work.”
Again, he’s right. Building a contending MLB team is hard. But it’s also their job. And it doesn’t take this long -- just ask the number of teams who have done it much more quickly than the Tigers, many with fewer resources.
The Oakland Athletics finished in last place in 2015, 2016, and 2017. They’ve won 97 games twice, won a division title, and made three playoff appearances since the Tigers started rebuilding.
The Toronto Blue Jays had to rebuild after back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016. After three years in fourth place, they’ve built perhaps the best offense in baseball with young stars Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, and Teoscar Hernandez, while crafting a pitching staff to put them in World Series contention.
The small-market Milwaukee Brewers had to rebuild after a playoff run in 2011, and after six seasons of no postseason, they’ve made it four years in a row -- soon to be five.
I could go on, and on, and on, but you get the point. Rebuilds don’t take a decade, no matter how much ownership tries to push that narrative. The Tigers had as much financial flexibility as any team heading into 2022. They’ve been drafting from the same pool of players as everyone else, most of the time with even higher picks.
Tigers fans shouldn’t be labeled unreasonable or impatient because they thought this year’s team would be, you know, at least as good as the Baltimore Orioles or Pittsburgh Pirates.
When rebuilds take longer than four or five years in MLB, it means the organization has made mistakes -- either acquiring the wrong players or failing to develop them.
The offense is historically bad, yet Scott Coolbaugh and Mike Hessman haven’t been held accountable. The drafts don’t yield any successful MLB hitters, yet Avila isn’t held accountable.
I don’t expect Ilitch to stand up during a Red Wings introductory press conference and rain fire down on the Tigers. But he shouldn’t act like expectations from the fans or the media are unreasonable, either.
This season is a setback. A failure. Unacceptable. If the owner of the organization won’t come out and say it, the rest of us will.