One of the things I like to do the most is look back at the recent history of the Tigers and analyze the moves and what has led to today. Currently, in the midst of a rebuild, a lot of being a Tigers fan is having hope and predicting and projecting what this team has for the future, and a big part of that is analyzing past moves. Today, I will be going over EVERY free agent signing Tigers GM Al Avila has made since taking over as GM on August 4th, 2015, there are some good signings he’s made and some very bad.
2015 was a big year for Al Avila, as he had just taken over as GM for the Tigers and it was his job to bring this team back into playoff contention– with a lot less money on the payroll. Avila went ahead and signed the most FAs in an offseason of his GM tenure along with by far spending the most money, so let’s break it down.
Jordan Zimmermann: F
Avila started off the 2015 offseason with a bang, signing one of the most highly touted free agents to a 5-year contract worth 110 million dollars. Zimmermann was a sensible signing for the Tigers at the time, as they weren’t in the market for Greinke or David Price, Zimmermann seemed like a pretty good fall back option, but he did show signs of regression in 2015 with a rise in his ERA and pretty much regressed in every stat. Zimmermann came to Detroit in 2016 and dominated… his first 5 starts. After that, constant injuries led to him continuing to regress to the point where his ERA was pushing 7 at the end of last season. Zimmermann, shockingly, is on the IL and it is up in the air whether he will pitch in a Tigers uniform ever again. This is one of the worst signings of the decade by any MLB team, however, the Orioles win the trophy on that one, signing Chris Davis to a 7yr/161m contract in the same offseason.
Mike Pelfrey: F
Al Avila is now 0/2 on SP free agent signings this offseason, as the next signing he made was signing Mike Pelfrey to a 2-year contract worth 16 million dollars!? Yes, the Tigers needed starting pitchers, but Mike Pelfrey? 16 million? Even back in 2015, this was a questionable signing and to no surprise Pelfrey was absolutely awful in 2016, finishing with a 5.04 ERA in 30 starts with even worse peripherals. This was a major head-scratcher, some other free agents that signed to similar deals that offseason were Rich Hill and Bartolo Colon. Pelfrey was eventually released before the start of the 2017 season, and who knows if the 2016 squad would’ve made the postseason if they had a legitimate 5th starter
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: C
On the same day of the Pelfrey signing, the Tigers added their 2016 backup catcher inking up Saltalamacchia to a 1-year deal worth the league minimum. Saltalamacchia had a major fall off from 2012-14 where he was a legitimate catcher for the Red Sox, now after a horrid 2015 with the Marlins, they released him and were going to pay his 2016 salary of 8 million so Saltalamacchia didn’t need to worry about where he’d be getting his money. Looking at Saltalamacchia’s 2015 splits, it seems like the Tigers signed Saltalamacchia for his lefty splits. Saltalamacchia didn’t really do anything with the Tigers. He was great in April of 2016, most notably hitting a grand slam in Pittsburgh, but after that, he fell off and was just a lousy backup with poor defense and the ability to take a walk ever so often. I give it a C because he was pretty bad, but only was making the minimum so it didn’t hurt this team.
Mark Lowe: F
After an F signing of Mike Pelfrey, it took Avila a whopping 2 days to make another F signing, bringing in Mark Lowe on a 2-year deal worth 11 million. Lowe for pretty much his whole career was a low-end reliever as he bounced around the AL west and only in 2009 had a WAR of over 0.4 which is considered about average for a reliever. Lowe however in 2015 had a huge year with the Mariners, getting shipped at the deadline to the Blue Jays where he fell back to earth there. Not a concern to the Tigers, it seemed that they didn’t see that he pitched with Toronto, paying him a pretty hefty deal for a reliever entering his age 33 season. Lowe ended up being nothing but awful for the Tigers and was a travesty of a signing, capping off one of the worst 2 weeks by a GM that I can imagine. Lowe was released, like Pelfrey just before the start of the 2017 season, and hasn’t pitched in the MLB since.
Mike Aviles: F
This is probably one of the most useless signings that Avila and the front office has ever made. Aviles was brought in on a 1-year deal worth 2 million to be a bench bat as they liked his versatility in the field. Aviles had been in the division for some time with stints with the Royals and Indians and hadn’t had a wRC+ of over 80 and was a meh fielder at best, and to no surprise, he repeated the numbers he had put up 4 straight years, actually, he was much worse with a 42 wRC+. The Tigers traded him in an unwanted veteran swap to the Braves where they got production from a bench bat for a month in a half of Erick Aybar. Aviles was instantly released by the Braves.
Justin Upton: B-
The Tigers ended the supposedly rebound offseason with a splash signing Justin Upton to a 6-year deal worth a little over 130 million, included with an opt-out after the 2nd season. The opt-out was a blessing in disguise, as he regressed mightily after the 2018 season where he would still have had an extra year on his contract but with it, it enabled the Tigers to go ahead and trade him at the 2017 non-waiver deadline where he opted out with the Angels. Upton, who is a very streaky player was awful the first half of the season, however, he rebounded and mashed to end the 2016 season. 2017 was also a career year for Upton which is why he opted out. The 2nd of the massive contracts Avila gave out in the ’15 offseason, this one was much better than the Zimmermann signing, as Upton was productive in his 2 seasons with the Tigers.
After a failed run in 2016, the Tigers were in a different position than they had been in. With Upton and Zimmermann’s contract now on the books, the Tigers’ main focus in the offseason was cutting payroll and staying under the luxury tax. The Tigers shipped Maybin to start the offseason and while they were in talks with teams, they weren’t able to garner any interest out of their guys which foreshadowed the rebuild, along with the front office’s poor ability to negotiate trades. With that being said, the Tigers were not focused on signing free agents, they only made 1 the whole offseason in fact.
Alex Avila: A+
As I earlier mentioned the Tigers were very quiet in the 2016 offseason, the only signing Avila made was bringing in his son to be the backup catcher after his past years as the catcher from 2009-15. Avila was sneakily good in 57 games with the White Sox, as despite hitting .213, he had a .359 OBP with a wRC+ of 103. Avila then had his best season since his 2011 all-star campaign slashing .274/.394/.475. Avila also had a part in the trade with the Cubs getting Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes, so in every way, Avila was a perfect signing. Very nice rebound by Avila and the front office.
After the huge teardown, the Tigers farm system was replenished and the payroll was down huge, however, the roster was terrible and the Tigers this offseason kicked off the theme of low-risk signings of veterans to be a stopgap at a position or eat innings. 2017 was definitely the cheapest the Tigers were of the 3 years they had done this, but they were actually quite successful this winter. This is one of the best offseasons Avila has had. I give him props for being able to get Kinsler’s contract off the books. He also was able to bring in Niko Goodrum on a minor league deal which is one of, if not the best move he’s made as a GM.
Leonys Martin: A+
The best free-agent signing of the offseason was the first Avila made, signing Leonys Martin to a 1-year deal worth 1.75 million. Martin was more of a low-risk high reward signing as he was brought in to compete with Jacoby Jones for the starting job in CF. He was awful in 2017 but in 2016 was a 2.4 WAR player who was close to an average hitter with good speed and defense. Martin went on to rebound from his 2017 and put up very respectable numbers in 78 games, (.251/.321/.409, 9 HR, 98 wRC+, 2.4 WAR), which would project him close to a 5 WAR player, it’s disappointing that the Tigers only were able to net Willi Castro for Martin but Castro has potential to be a low-end starter and that is very good considering the Tigers paid 1.75 million to Martin to get that.
Mike Fiers: B+
The Tigers’ main focus in the offseason as I previously mentioned was signing innings eaters and stopgap guys. The Tigers got their innings-eater in 2018 in Mike Fiers bringing him in on a 1 year deal worth 6 million. Fiers was rock solid for the Tigers in 2018 posting a 3.48 ERA 21 starts though not as great peripherals to what his ERA indicated (4.67 FIP). Nonetheless, the Tigers were able to get 2 prospects in return for Fiers which any deal like this you can flip the guy is considered a win. The reason why this isn’t an A is because even with his nice performance, Fiers in no way should’ve been paid 6 million. The guy was nontendered by the Astros and had a negative WAR in 2017, so the Tigers should consider themselves lucky with this signing, as they weren’t so much a year later.
Francisco Liriano: C+
The final signing the Tigers made, just before spring training started was bringing in veteran starter Francisco Liriano on a 1 year deal that had previously worked with the new management in town in Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire. Liriano was brought in on a 1 year deal worth 4 million dollars. Liriano did his job which was to eat innings but he really wasn’t good, at all. He had a 0.4 WAR in 26 starts with an ERA of 4.58 and worse peripherals (5.11 FIP). Overall this was a meh signing, Liriano helped the team but he was very overpayed (should’ve been paid a MILB deal) and the Tigers failed to get any value out of him which says a TON that the Blue Jays were able to get Teoscar Hernandez out of him in 2017 the Tigers got nothing.
After a 28-57 finish to the 2018 season, the Tigers were once again looking for stopgap/inning eaters that they could use at the major league level while their prospects were being developed. This offseason saw Avila’s 2nd worse offseason, as it seemed like the Tigers low risk signings didn’t have any reward to them.
Matt Moore: No Grade
The first signing of the offseason was very questionable that the Tigers made signing Matt Moore to a 1 year deal worth 2.5 million as the signing was quite early and based on his numbers in 2018 it looked like if they waited they could’ve gotten him for much less. Moore however, looked very well in his 2 starts with the Tigers in 2019. In fact, through 10 innings Moore had a higher WAR than his 102 in 2018. Moore sadly had damage in his knee after a bang bang play against Billy Hamilton and we weren’t able to see him for the rest of 2019. Moore ends with an incomplete grade, but I think ultimately he would’ve ended in the C range.
Tyson Ross: F
It took 2 years and 2 days but Al Avila is back in the F column with the signing of Tyson Ross. Ross was once a legitimate starter including earning an all star bid in 2014, however after the 2015 season, Ross spent all but 1 start on the IL with shoulder inflammation and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2017. 2018, Ross came back and was alright but was once again highly overpaid by the Tigers, getting nearly 6 million for just a 1 WAR season. Ross only pitched 35 innings in all of 2019 and was atrocious in them. The reason why I give Ross an F and not an incomplete grade was that first, it was already a huge overpay and second, Ross had already had a steep injury history with his shoulder, and he had yet another in 2019 while Moore had a knee injury that wasn’t a nagging injury. Avila had been pretty good with his FA signings since the Lowe signing back in 2015, but this was the start of some pretty bad signings.
Jordy Mercer: D
The Tigers made their third signing of the offseason bringing in Jordy Mercer on a 1 year deal worth 5.25 million. Mercer was a solid low end starter with the Pirates from 2013-18 putting up very pedestrian numbers and was a nice cheap option for a low market team like Pittsburgh. Now on the market for the first time, the Tigers seemed to have him as their target right away and brought him in very early in the offseason, it seemed a little too early. Once again, the Tigers seemed to overpay for a guy that if they simply waited, could’ve gotten for much cheaper. Mercer was really bad for pretty much the whole season but was very good to end out the season which boosts his grade to a non-F, but another bad signing by Avila and the front office.
Josh Harrison: F
Avila now has his 5th F signing as he finished off the offseason with a unexpected splash signing 2 time all star Josh Harrison to a 1 year deal. This definitely caught fans off guard and the response was very positive, but looking back his injury riddled .175/.218/.263 slash line over the year, his big dropoff in 2018 was no fluke and there was a reason he was on the market at the start of training camp. Harrison was eventually released in August capping off an awful offseason for Al Avila. Of the 4 signings he made, just 1 played for more than a fraction of the season, and they got almost no production, spending over 15 million on guys.
Coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Avila made it clear that this team was going to improve and he wasn’t lying signing 5 guys to major league deals. This offseason was definitely the most aggressive the Tigers have been and they played their cards right, waiting to sign guys and not overpaying anyone. This was in no means perfect, but Avila executed this offseason very well.
Austin Romine: A
The Tigers kicked off the 2019 offseason signing a veteran catcher after not addressing the need last offseason and paying the price having one of the worst catcher groups in all of baseball. So far this season Romine has been excellent. Romine was a very respectable backup with the Yankees and got an opportunity to start with the Tigers and has showed that he is capable of being a starter playing well offensively and defensively. Romine is currently slashing .297/.308/.438 for a 100 wRC+ and has graded out well defensively as well. As of now I’m hoping the Tigers resign Romine for 2021 as he’s a great leader, can mentor Jake Rogers, and is an overall solid player.
Jonathan Schoop: A-
Another very nice add, Schoop so far in 2020 has been the Tigers most productive hitter slashing .278/.308/.495 for a 0.6 WAR and could be a name on the market in the upcoming week. Schoop, a former all star was brought in to boost the offense that was historically bad and so far has done just that. While I don’t expect the Tigers to extend him, I think Schoop is a great 1 year guy and has helped this team be at least decently competitive through the first 26 games. The grade will take an even bigger boost if the Tigers get value for him at the deadline.
CJ Cron: No Grade
Another big offensive add was CJ Cron as the Tigers brought him on a 1 year, 6 million dollar deal. Unfortunately, a knee sprain has ended his season early which was a bummer as he was a staple to the offense. Cron was off to a pretty solid start and it seemed like he was on the brink of a hot streak as he was hitting just .190 before he went down. With his knee injury, the Tigers should be able to get him for below market value for 2021 and I really hope they pursue that.
Ivan Nova: No grade
The Tigers signed only 1 pitcher to an MLB deal this offseason and that was Ivan Nova. The only reason the Tigers brought Ivan Nova was as a pure innings eater and he’d have that role until around July or August when the prospects were ready to come up. With the shutdown of the league and the short season, Nova didn’t really have a use and despite his poor performance, that was kind of expected going into the season and you can’t really pin it on Avila. I am glad that they finally realized that you don’t have to pay 4-6 million for a innings eater
Cameron Maybin: D+
The most recent signing Avila’s made, Maybin had a late career offensive surge with the Yankees fixing his launch angle and hitting the ball harder than he ever has, all to be sitting on the free agent market in February as it seemed like the league was in consensus agreement that he would decline in 2020 and so far he has done just that. I’m not going to shred the Tigers for this signing, not giving than an F was OF was a huge need and they had no better options but so far Maybin has been pretty terrible and at this point is not even a starter.
I hope you enjoyed my article, I have a lot of enjoyment making these as while I educate you guys I also learn a lot myself, if you have any more suggestions for articles like these, my DM’s are always open on my instagram page @Tigers.news_