By: Will Burchfield
After Al Avila’s foreboding end-of-the-year comments last November, it was presumed that the Tigers’ GM was facing an edict to cut payroll.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the case.
“Quite frankly, ownership has not told me to dump salary,” Avila told MLB Network’s Chris Russo on Tuesday. “Basically, they asked me, ‘If you can make a good baseball trade, that’s great.'”
Avila described a good baseball trade in the following terms:
“If you’re going to want one of our everyday players, whether it be our right fielder, our left fielder, one of our infielders or one of our pitchers, then we’re going to want in return a solid prospect combination that I can plug in to play in one of the positions at the Major League level or somebody that’s close enough that I can plug in in the near future.”
“If that’s not available,” Avila added, “then we’re not going to go out there and basically trade for A-ball, fringe type of guys because we’re not there yet. I can’t trade away two or three players without having the return to be able to plug in because then I’m going to cripple the organization.”
Avila said in November that the Tigers, whose $205 million payroll was the fourth highest in baseball last season, were on a mission to get younger, leaner and more cost-efficient as an organization.
“Changes are coming,” he declared.
That led to an offseason of speculation and uncertainty, with nearly every Tigers star wrapped up in trade rumors. But Avila said he was never particularly close to completing a deal.
“I can say that I had many conversations throughout the winter, but nothing really went to the point where I felt that we were going to make a trade. I thought there were going to be opportunities that never really developed to that point where I was close to calling ownership and saying, ‘Hey, I got this. Is it okay to do it?’ I never got to the point where I had to call ownership for final approval,” he said.
Despite the Tigers’ quiet offseason, Avila reiterated that the organization is still in the process of adopting a more efficient front-office approach.
“We’ve been transparent from the very end of the season as to what our long-term plan is. And our long-term plan basically is very simple,” he said. “I explained it very simply to our local media and to everybody. I think the national media might have gone above and beyond what the true meaning is, which is: We want to run our payroll in a more efficient manner, we want to get younger obviously, we want to have more financial flexibility.
“(But) you don’t get like that in one winter. And I explained it very, very exact that we may not even be able to do anything this winter based on some of the contacts that we have and some of the situations and some of the free agents that are going to be available. It might take two to three winters to do what we want to do.”
Aside from trading Cameron Maybin to the Angels in November, the Tigers haven’t made any major moves this offseason. Nevertheless, Avila likes the club’s chances in 2017.
“We feel very good about our team,” he said. “Despite some key injuries, our team fell just short of the playoffs the last couple days of the season last year. So we feel we can still compete.”
The Tigers have $181 million on the books next season. Accounting for league minimum salaries and projected arbitration salaries, however, their payroll is expected to exceed the $195 million luxury tax threshold. In that case, the Tigers would be face a luxury tax of 30 percent on the overage.