The Detroit Tigers fired longtime general manager Al Avila on Wednesday as the team struggled mightily in a year in which it guaranteed nearly a quarter-billion dollars in free agency to bolster its efforts to contend.
Avila, 64, had spent more than two decades with the organization, including the past seven years as general manager after first serving as assistant GM.
Born in Cuba, he was the only GM of Latin American descent in Major League Baseball, a sport whose player population is nearly 30% Latin American, and one of just four people of color leading a front office, alongside San Francisco GM Farhan Zaidi, Miami GM Kim Ng and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams.
During Avila's tenure, the Tigers finished in last place in the American League Central Division four times and currently occupy the basement with a 43-68 record and a -122 run differential, both third-worst in the majors.
"To Tigers fans, you're the best and you deserve a winner," Avila said in a statement released by the team. "I wish the results could have been better this season but know there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years."
Detroit had hoped the promotion of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, the emergence of young pitchers Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal and the signings of shortstop Javier Baez ($140 million) and starter Eduardo Rodriguez ($77 million) would push them toward contending for the first time since a run of four consecutive playoff seasons from 2011 to 2014.
Instead, the Tigers have been among the game's most disappointing teams.
"Our progress certainly stalled this season," owner Chris Ilitch told reporters prior to Wednesday's game against Cleveland. "All of us -- the players, front office and many of you (reporters) -- had high expectations and excitement for the season. Unfortunately, we did not see progress this season at the major league level. Big reason why I decided it's time to make a change.''
Torkelson is back in the minor leagues after struggling for the season's first three months. Mize will miss the rest of the season following Tommy John surgery, Manning has thrown just 20 innings because of injuries, and Skubal is on the injured list. Baez is having the worst offensive season of his nine-year major league career and has five years and $120 million remaining on his deal. And Rodriguez, who left the Tigers in mid-June because of personal reasons, is only now starting a minor league rehab assignment and is owed $63 million over the next four years.
"I didn't trade those players away," Ilitch said Wednesday. "Our general manager did. Al did."
Sam Menzin, an up-and-coming assistant general manager with Detroit, will take over day-to-day operations until Ilitch chooses a replacement for Avila, who is the father of veteran catcher Alex Avila.
Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said he'll collaborate with Menzin for the remainder of the season but he's not interested in also being the team's general manager.
"Last year, we had some momentum," Hinch said. "This year, we hit a roadblock."
Avila has more than three decades of experience in baseball. He was Dave Dombrowski's assistant with the Marlins, whom he helped sign Miguel Cabrera when he was 16. Avila worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a special assistant in 2002 before rejoining Dombrowski in Detroit.
"Once I decided to make a change, I sat down with Al and thanked him for his nearly 22 years of service to our organization," Ilitch said in a statement. "Al's loyalty and dedicated has served as an example to all during his time as a leader in our baseball operations department."
Ilitch said he would oversee the search process for Avila's replacement.
"I want to re-establish our momentum and progress towards building a winning team and I am driven to find a talented executive to help us do that," Ilitch said. "... With new baseball operations leadership will come a fresh perspective toward evolving our roster and maximizing our talent to reach our objectives. To be clear, our goals are to build a team that wins on a sustainable basis, qualifies for the playoffs and ultimately wins the World Series."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.