Detroit Tigers: Al Avila Doing What Dave Dombrowski Didn’t


After years of a bad bullpen, the Detroit Tigers’ general manager Al Avila is doing what his predecessor Dave Dombrowski never did.

First thing’s first, ex-General Manager Dave Dombrowski who is the Boston Red Sox’ GM now was a great asset to the Detroit Tigers organization. A big reason the Tigers won four straight American League Central crowns was because of him.

He’s dealt for superstars like Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, and David Price. That isn’t including countless smaller trades during his tenure that helped improve the team.

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But if there’s one thing Dombrowski never did it’s already well-documented. The lack of a good Tigers’ bullpen has been the team’s achilles’ heel for years now. They blew games for them almost religiously.

Fans still remember Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria would go on to blow a three-run lead in the bottom of the eight.

No matter how great the Tigers’ starting staff was, the bullpen failed them time and time again. Manager Brad Ausmus‘ persistence in having Joe Nathan close games didn’t help either.

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Even before 2014, the Tigers had plenty of problems in the bullpen. Aside from Jose Valverde‘s perfect 49-for-49 season in 2011, the bullpen has been average at best.

For as good as Dombrowski was, he never seemed to be able to put together a good bullpen. For the past few years the Tigers have relied on a guy like Bruce Rondon who has yet to prove anything in the Majors.

Maybe it was Dombrowski’s well-known fad with hard-throwing pitchers. Or maybe it’s just that some decisions would blow up in his face. Nathan was supposed to be the answer after signing a 2-year/$20 million deal before the 2014 campaign.

But that blew up in Dombrowski’s face in spectacular fashion to the tune of a 4.81 ERA in 58 innings pitched. Mind you, he had a 1.39 ERA in 64.2 IP in 2013 for the Texas Rangers so there was definitely an effort to re-tool the bullpen.

It just wasn’t meant to be for the Tigers and Dombrowski. In shocking fashion, he was relieved of his duties that fateful August afternoon and he’s moved on to the Red Sox now.

Now this is Al Avila’s team to run after years of being Dombrowski’s assistant. Lots of fans and pundits were wary of how Avila would run this team. Rightfully so, his predecessor was a great trader and one of the best in the business.

A lot of that skepticism should be gone by now. Avila’s pulled off tons of good-to-great moves to fix this team’s weaknesses. From left field to fixing up the starting rotation to yes, the bullpen, he’s done a lot so far.

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  • His “worst” move so far would arguably be a 2-year/$16 million contract for Mike Pelfrey. But complaining about a back-end starter like Pelfrey is a luxury after a last place finish in the AL Central in 2015.

    The other moves Avila has made have all been met with some generally positive results. Signing a top-guy like Jordan Zimmermann looks impressive after the money Price and Zack Greinke both got as free agents.

    Starters cost a lot of money and that’s shown with the way the free agent market is shaping. Avila has avoided all that and signed guys to value money. It looks like the previous moves they made in the analytical department are paying dividends now.

    Arguably the most important part of Avila’s moves has to be the aforementioned bullpen though. Avila has (so far) gotten three solid bullpen parts to fill in the tough late innings roles. He found his team’s closer in Francisco Rodriguez for a cheap price.

    Then he went ahead and signed Mark Lowe to a 2-year/$11 million dollar deal. That might come back to bite them due to his breakout season in 2014 for the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays.

    The best part about it all? Avila THEN went on to trade for Justin Wilson from the New York Yankees. A lefty who isn’t just a lefty specialist and seems to thrive in high-pressure situations.

    Ausmus has been criticized in the past for his bullpen management plenty. But if Avila keeps bolstering the bullpen, he might not even be able to mess that up.

    All of a sudden, the Tigers’ bullpen might be starting to look like a strength. It’s far too early to say but Avila may not be done. There are still plenty of rumors circulating around this Tigers team.

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    It’s still only December and there is still plenty of time for the Tigers. Left Field still looks like a problem and you never know how bullpens end up at the end of the day.

    This team looks a lot better than the group that ended the 2015 season though. And a lot of that has to do with Avila.