(97.1 The Ticket) If Al Avila’s position as general manager of the Tigers is secure, Ken Holland’s position as GM of the Red Wings feels far less so.
This comes in light of Chris Ilitch, CEO of Ilitch Holdings and owner of the Tigers and the Red Wings, casting a vote of confidence for Avila while declining to do the same for Holland in a Q-&-A session Saturday in Lakeland, Fla.
Both general managers are in the midst of rebuilding their respective organizations. Avila, for his part, has achieved the Tigers’ immediate goal of paring down payroll and restocking the farm system over the past year.
“I’m thrilled with the work that Al is doing,” Ilitch said, via the Free Press.
“We’re really focused on, and my vision is to ensure, that we build a franchise and a team that’s going to win over the long term and be contenders for World Series championships in the future,” Ilitch added. “And Al Avila and his team have really put together what I think is an excellent plan.”
Over the past several months, Avila has traded the veteran likes of J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler in exchange for solid prospects and salary relief. The Tigers still have a long way to go, but their outlook is considerably brighter now than it was at this time last year.
“Our team, our baseball operations team in particular, is being very progressive and aggressive, and I support that wholeheartedly,” Ilitch said. “I really, really feel confident in the future of our franchise. I really like the direction we’re headed and I think Al Avila and his entire baseball operations staff are doing a tremendous job of putting us in the right direction. So, I’m energized.”
Ilitch struck a much different tone when asked about Holland, whose contract expires after this season. The two sides have not discussed an extension.
“We, of course, have 11 operating companies that we’re involved with, the Tigers and the Red Wings being two of those. Today, I’m in Lakeland, Florida. This is spring training for the Tigers. So, I’m happy to talk to you about the Tigers and really want to keep the focus today on the Detroit Tigers,” Ilitch said, via the Free Press.
Ilitch was then asked if he wants Holland to return as GM.
“And I’ll be happy to take any more questions you have on the Detroit Tigers,” he replied.
Holland, 62, has handed out a number of questionable contracts in recent years that have hamstrung the Red Wings’ ability to rebuild. And he’s only just begun to recoup the kind of future assets the team continuously sacrificed in an effort to sustain its 25-year playoff streak.
Still, Holland has spoken recently like a general manager who expects to retain his job. He attributed this sense of security to his close relationship with the Ilitches in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket last week.
“I’m the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. Very proud, very honored to have this job. Obviously there’s speculation because my contract expires at the end of the year, but I’m not concerned about it because of the relationship that I’ve got with ownership, and at the same time, where I am with my career and my life. So, it’s of no concern to me,” Holland said.
He also dismissed the rumors that he could leave the Wings to become GM of the prospective Seattle franchise that might begin play as soon as 2020-21.
Avila, unlike Holland, is under contract through 2020. Despite Ilitch’s satisfaction with Avila’s work since inheriting in 2015 an aging roster with several bloated contracts, the Tigers owner has not approached his GM about an extension.
“Al and I, we’re in constant contact,” Ilitch said. “We have a very regular dialogue on a whole range of topics. Obviously, most of them are baseball operations-related but we haven’t had any discussions in that regard.”
In the short term, though, Avila certainly appears safe. It’s hard to say the same about Holland.