“Heading into this season, all of us at the ball club … had high expectations and excitement for the season,” Ilitch said. “Unfortunately, we did not see progress this season at the major league level, and that’s a big reason why I decided it’s time to make a change.”
Ilitch and Avila declared the organization’s long rebuild over during the offseason, both literally with their words and figuratively through their actions. They spent big on free agents Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez while making win-now trades to acquire the likes of Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhart.
But the results have been disastrous, with the Tigers taking a massive step backwards after an encouraging 2021 season. The team is currently 25 games below .500 and owns the third-worst record in MLB.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that players vital to the organization’s future -- Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning, just to name a few -- have either struggled or dealt with significant injuries.
Ultimately, all these factors were enough to cost Avila his job after seven seasons. He spent 22 years with the Tigers organization overall.
“It’s really about progress,” Ilitch said. “I’ve said it for years: Each and every season, we need to make progress, and if we do that, we’ll ultimately reach our goals and our objectives. This year, I think it became evident that we did not make progress, particularly at the major league level.”
The decision to make a change at the general manager position came within the past two days, Ilitch said. He spoke to Avila and saw no reason to delay the inevitable.
“Once I made the decision, there was no reason to wait until the end of the season,” Ilitch said. “I wanted to get a jump on the search process.”
Ilitch said in July that he was “very pleased” with the progress of the organization, but that is no longer the case after the team continued to pile up losses (you can listen to those comments below).
Since Ilitch made those comments -- which was during the introductory press conference for new Detroit Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde -- the Tigers have gone 14-23.
“That day I commented that our team was off to a slow start, however, I was pleased with some of the progress that’s been made,” Ilitch said Wednesday. “In fact, I said, ‘I’m very pleased with the progress of the Detroit Tigers. Despite a very slow start to our season with our team, there’s actually some good progress happening with some of our young guys who have come up and developed, and so on and so forth.’
“Unfortunately, now, a slow start has turned into a difficult season, and the progress I referenced on July 1 remains still the brightest spot of this season, and that is the promise shown by several prospects this season, who debuted at the MLB level.”
Ilitch named Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo, Garrett Hill, and Riley Greene as some of the prospects he’s encouraged by at the MLB level. He also mentioned minor league improvement from players such as Ryan Kreidler, Austin Bergner, Chance Kirby, Parker Meadows, and Kerry Carpenter.
While some of those players are having strong seasons, that list might not inspire much hope for fans who want to see the team compete for a playoff spot in the next few years. Brieske, Faedo, and Hill, in particular, have yet to prove that they’re surefire MLB pitchers. None of the minor leaguers he mentioned have much prospect pedigree.
“The building of successful teams, they move at different paces,” Ilitch said. “You look at longer ones, like Seattle’s process, and then there’s a bit faster turnarounds like we’re seeing right now in Baltimore. For us, the organization has made so much progress over the last few years -- we need to just reestablish that momentum that we had heading into this season.”
If Ilitch is going to use the Mariners, who are trying to break a 21-year playoff drought this season, as a justification for the length of the Tigers’ rebuild -- well, fans are going to have to be patient.
The next step will be an “exhaustive, thorough search” for a new general manger, Ilitch said. Internal and external candidates will be considered.
Ilitch isn’t putting a timeline on the search for his next general manager, insisting that his priority is to find the right person who can meet the organization’s objectives: to play sustainable winning baseball, to make the playoffs, and to ultimately win a World Series.
“I feel very comfortable that I’ve given Al the time and the resource to accomplish our mission, and he’s made good progress up until this year, when our progress stalled, and that’s when I made the decision to make the change,” Ilitch said.
“To make an assessment of the season, enough of the season has to transpire. At this point in time, enough of the season has occurred and we’ve played enough games to where I feel as though we just have not seen progress this year.”
Ilitch maintained the contract extension he awarded Avila in 2019 was appropriate at the time.
“I do think it was the right decision to extend him in (2019),” Ilitch said. “Unfortunately, today, we just haven’t seen the progress this season, and thus this change. I believe that bringing in a new leader in our baseball operations area is going to give us fresh perspective. It’s a real opportunity to reevaluate everything that we’re doing and bring new ideas and a fresh perspective as we go forward.”
Will he be willing to spend more money to build a winner if he feels the team is heading in the right direction?
“We are a team that has ample resources to support our baseball operations leadership as we move forward to build a team to accomplish our objectives -- first and foremost a winning team, and then we want to qualify for the playoffs, and we want to ultimately win a World Series,” Ilitch said. “The resources have been, continue to be, available for us to building a winning team. There’s no issues there.”
You can watch all of Ilitch’s comments from Wednesday below.