Avila makes the call on Ausmus
The first huge decision of the new Tigers regime established this: Al Avila makes the calls.
That appeared to be in serious question two weeks ago after reports about Brad Ausmus’ impending dismissal and the mixed messages that followed. Avila answered both Saturday: Ausmus is the manager for 2016. And Avila is making the baseball decisions.
For the Tigers to move forward with a realistic goal to contend next season, and for Avila to establish himself as a general manager, the latter was just as important — if not moreso — than the former. Both had to be answered.
Both had been clouded in some level of mystery since Avila replaced Dombrowski a month and a half ago. Ausmus was Dombrowski’s hire, though Avila played an active role in the process. Avila was Mike Ilitch’s immediate pick once the owner decided to dismiss Dombrowski. Avila got a five-year contract, one year longer than Dombrowski’s last deal, but he didn’t get all of Dombrowski’s old titles.
There currently is no Tigers president or chief executive officer. Avila is the senior vice president of baseball operations, and the press release announcing his hire noted that he reports directly to Mike Ilitch.
Like any GM, Avila earned the right to pick his own manager, and the right to evaluate the people who were officially hired by his predecessor, even if Avila was part of the hiring process. When reports emerged about Ausmus on his way out at season’s end, that evaluation process had a bad look, like it had been circumvented.
Whatever the sources of the reports, they didn’t come out of baseball operations, according to Avila. He hadn’t made any decision.
“When the report came out I was being fired, after talking to Al, I felt like it didn’t come from the baseball operations side,” Ausmus said. “Al was very open and honest with me the next morning we spoke, and we’ve spoken a number of times since then. Our relationship has always been good, so I knew whatever the decision was, that Al would be honest with me.”
Avila couldn’t speak for other departments, and while he confirmed with Ilitch that the evaluation process was still ongoing, the appearance of at least an opinion from somewhere in the organization lingered with a report and no resolution. And that put Avila in an admittedly awkward position.
It looked awkward for ownership, too. What made the Tigers structure work for a decade under Dombrowski was the appearance of trust. Ilitch was willing to put money into his general manager’s ideas to field a quality ballclub without overly interfering in how the GM goes about it, with the occasional exception such as a Johnny Damon.
“When Mr. Ilitch put me in this position as general manager, he basically let me make the decision,” Avila said. “I said, ‘Well, let me take these two months to make this decision. I will evaluate this.’ He allowed me to make the decision. This is my decision.
“I talked to [Ilitch on Friday]. I was getting closer to thinking this way. You had to weigh out a lot of things, the positives, the negatives. So there’s a lot of things to think about, up and down the system. I even thought about things in the minor leagues, and how they would be approached at the Major League level.”
Avila made an evaluation of the entire player development system, and he had his assistants take various looks at the club on the road. He talked with his assistants, more than one of whom went to bat for Ausmus. He talked with players about the atmosphere on the team and the push for more wins.
Then came the reports, and then everything came into question. Avila had enough trust in ownership to make a statement at the time. Ausmus had enough trust in Avila to let the evaluation process play out and not ask for an immediate decision.
And by today’s indications, Ilitch had enough trust in Avila to let him take care of it.
“Mr. Ilitch left it up to me, and I made the decision,” Avila said. “I called him. I said, ‘Mr. Ilitch, I’m going to keep Brad Ausmus.’ He said, ‘God bless you, move forward.’”
The Tigers are ready to move forward. It’s easier now that this is done.