When do you know your rebuild didn't work?
For former Tigers general manager Al Avila, the answer to that came last Wednesday, when Detroit announced his firing, ending his 22-year career working for the franchise in various roles.
The news was hardly surprising, given the circumstances. Last season, after a four-year stretch in which Detroit lost nearly 100 games for every 162 it played, the Tigers climbed to 77 wins. Thanks to high draft picks during the lean years, they had amassed a trio of highly-ranked pitching prospects already in the majors (Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal) and two of the game's highest-rated hitting prospects ready to join them (Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene). Finally, this winter the time seemed ripe to make a splash and begin a new era of contention.
And splash they did. The Tigers signed shortstop Javier Baez (6 years, $140 million), starter Eduardo Rodriguez (5 years, $77 million) and reliever Andrew Chafin (2 years, $13 million) to multiyear deals. Starter Michael Pineda signed for one year, $5.5 million.
We know what happened next: disaster.
The Tigers are on pace to lose more than 100 games, behind an offense that has flirted with historic ineptness. The young pitchers have gotten hurt. Chafin has pitched well, but the early returns on the rest of the free agent signings are concerning. Torkelson lost his way at the plate and wound up back in the minors before the All-Star break, and while Greene has been better, he hasn't really exploded onto the scene, either. With so many prospects graduating to the big leagues, the Tigers dropped from No. 13 in Kiley McDaniel's preseason prospect rankings to No. 24 after the trade deadline.
In other words, nothing went right, and now Avila, a loyal and respected baseball man, is gone.
You can trace the start of the Tigers' rebuild back to 2017, when they followed an 86-75 season with a 98-loss campaign and traded longtime ace Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros. With this year's disappointment, does this mean the Tigers' rebuild has failed? Maybe. It might be too soon to tell. But either way, its duration has reached six years, and the end is not yet in sight.
Such are the perils of rebuilding. You might make noise about trying to compete right now while transforming the organization into a unit built for annual contention. The team gets younger. Payroll begins to drop. Free agency is all but ignored. The losses pile up and the first-round draft slots start to land in the single digits. Your most intense fans begin to dwell on the prospect rankings more than the actual games.
The question then becomes: How long is this rebuild going to take -- and will it ever be worth it?