Baltimore Orioles: Tigers Firing Shows What a Failed Rebuild Looks Like
The Orioles should take notice of the Tigers firing their GM.
The Baltimore Orioles, by all accounts, are having a very successful season. The same cannot be said of the Detroit Tigers, who are in the midst of their sixth consecutive losing season. The organization and General Manager Al Avila mutually agreed to part ways, ending one of the longest front office tenures in baseball.
The writing was on the walls for Avila, as he oversaw Detroit’s rebuild and has nothing to show for it. Since the rebuild started in 2017, the Tigers won less than 70 games four straight seasons. They seemed to take a step forward last year with 77 wins, which included a winning record following an 8-19 April.
Thinking the team was ready to compete entering 2022, Avila signed top free agents Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez, traded for Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhart, and also signed Michael Pineda and Andrew Chapin. All those moves led to…another year in fifth place. Of that crop, only Chapin has played well. Rodriguez was away from the team for months, Meadows, Barnhart, and Pineda have been bad and hurt, and Baez has just been plain bad.
Not only have the aggressive moves fallen flat, but the young reinforcements haven’t helped either. Spencer Torkelson made the Opening Day roster but hit so poorly he got sent down. Riley Greene hasn’t embarrassed himself, but he is still a below-average hitter. Daz Cameron, Akil Baddoo, and Kody Clemens have been below replacement level to this point. The rotation has been ravaged by injuries, with Matt Manning and Casey Mize missing most of the year, and Tarik Skubal now out for the rest of the season.
Due to the poor play of veterans and rookies alike, the Tigers now have a historically bad offense (3.16 runs per game) and an unappealing prospect list (24th according to FanGraphs). The Orioles and General Manager Mike Elias should be viewing the Tigers’ decision to fire Avila as a warning for what happens when a rebuild fails. The Tigers are stuck with an awful roster, a poor farm system, and a hopeless fanbase.
The Tigers’ rebuild began with a big sell off during the 2017 season, one year before the Orioles did the same thing. That year, they traded away Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila. The best player they got back is…Jeimer Candelario. Out of all those trades, they got back a grand total of zero All-Star appearances, and only a few contributors to boot. The most notable prospect they got back is Isaac Paredes, and he is now playing for the Rays.
That lack of quality return sounds eerily similar to the Orioles’ 2018 trade deadline. Dan Duquette, in his final season, traded away Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, Jonathan Schoop, Zack Britton, and Brad Brach. The only notable contributors they got back are Dillon Tate, Bruce Zimmermann, Jonathan Villar, and Dean Kremer. The best prospect at the time, Yusniel Diaz, is still floundering in the minors. Four years later, it is clear that the beginning of the rebuild has hardly helped get Baltimore back to contention.
The good news for the Orioles is, of course, that their rebuild has been successful so far for other reasons. Not only do they have the best farm system in baseball, but the Major League roster is way ahead of schedule with a winning record and a real shot at the playoffs this year. Under Elias the team has drafted and developed talent exceptionally well. This season, the Orioles have graduated generational talent Adley Rutschman, and yet they have so many other top prospects they have held onto the unofficial top farm spot.
The biggest difference between the Orioles and the Tigers is that their recent first rounders have become blue chippers, and many of their middle round picks are reaching their ceilings. D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez were first round picks by Duquette. and then Rutschman was Elias’s first pick. Heston Kjerstad has run into a ton of bad luck, but Colton Cowser looks as good as advertised. After the first round, some of Elias’s best picks include Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Coby Mayo, Kyle Stowers, and plenty of other interesting mid-level prospects.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have little depth to show for their drafts. They have done well in the first round, with Mize, Greene, and Torkelson meeting expectations throughout the minors, but that has yet to translate to the big leagues. After the first round, Skubal is really the only top prospect they have developed. Beau Brieske is a wonderful 27th rounder, but there is hardly anyone else. Dillon Dingler was a steal at 38th overall because he was supposed to go in the back of the first round.
The Orioles have made a concerted effort to turn around their pitching development and give as much data as possible to their minor leaguers. The next Tigers regime will have to do the same thing in order to replenish their farm system year after year. That is the only way to keep a strong farm system when the top prospects graduate. Just ask the Dodgers.
Mike Elias and the rest of his front office has made sure they go about the rebuild the right way by paying attention to every aspect of player acquisition. But now that the Orioles are a competitive team, expectations are higher. If they fall back to the basement like the Tigers have this season, then Elias could be looking for a new job next winter.