By: Will Burchfield
All good things must come to an end.
“It’s a sad situation,” Al Avila said on Friday morning, “because we had a great run here for close to 10 years.”
The Tigers turned the page on an era on Thursday, trading franchise icon Justin Verlander along with Justin Upton and committing to a full-scale rebuild.
“It’s a hard thing, but a necessary thing to be able to win in the future. If we didn’t do this now, it would be impossible to continue to sustain a winning team,” Avila said.
A new reality is about to take hold for Tigers’ fans. After enjoying winning baseball for much of the past decade, there is suddenly very little to cheer for. The star power is lacking. The wins will be, too.
That’s likely to be reflected in attendance at Comerica Park, which has declined each of the past five years. It’s likely to be reflected in TV ratings, merchandise sales and general interest in the team.
“That’s always a chance that you take. At the end of the day, you still have to make those moves because if you don’t you’re going to run the franchise into the ground,” said Avila. “What we did is hopefully give people the expectation that, ‘Hey, we did what we had to do. We’re going to turn it around and we’re going to move forward as quickly as we can.’
“Hopefully they understand the process and they have faith in it.”
Since the beginning of last offseason, it seemed Avila and the Tigers were toeing the line between retooling on the fly and tearing things down and starting from scratch. Even after trading J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila in July, the organization’s direction wasn’t entirely clear.
Thursday’s moves brought everything into focus.
“This is an obvious rebuild. We’re trying to stock our farm system with the best prospects we can acquire, and that’s how we’ll move forward,” Avila said. “We’re going to have a rough month of September and next year might not be all that pretty either, but at some point in the near future we expect this to turn around.”
Just how long will fans have to wait?
“I don’t want to put an exact timeframe on it,” said Avila. “Some clubs have turned it around in two to three years, there’s some teams it’s taken 10 years. I’m 59 years old, I certainly don’t want a 10-year plan. I just don’t see that in my vision. We’ll be working very hard to do this in a manner where it makes sense. There is some patience needed, obviously, but in my estimation it’s something where it will be acceptable.”
The Tigers have added five prospects to their top 10 and eight to their top 30 in the past month and a half, per MLB pipeline. Some of those youngsters, like right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez and third baseman Jeimer Candelario, are closer to contributing than others.
But make no mistake about it: The Tigers’ farm system is considerably deeper than it was at the beginning of the season. And their future is brighter as a result.
“We had mentioned it all the way since last year: This is a team that needs to turn over the roster as we can. I told you guys it’s not going to be overnight, and sure enough it’s been a process, step by step. (Thursday) night was a big part of the process,” said Avila.
He’s hoping the fans trust it.