Chris Ilitch was on a video call with reporters this winter, announcing the biggest signing yet during the Tigers’ supposed rise to contention.

He had just approved signing Javier Báez to a six-year, $140 million contract, filling the Tigers gaping void at shortstop and bringing an enthralling — albeit flawed — player to the Motor City.

“This is a turning point for the Tigers, undoubtedly,” Ilitch said. “Signing a player like Javy I think sends a message to the baseball world, to the fans, that the Tigers are here to compete.”

A turning point. Sure.

Less than a year later, the Tigers have turned in the opposite direction, erasing the progress and hope the team created in 2021 and instead heading toward another potential 100-loss season.

Báez is currently hitting .227, worth only 1.0 fWAR. And for a list of other reasons, the 2022 season has been an unmitigated disaster. That disaster — and all the missteps that preceded it — cost general manager Al Avila his job. And now the Tigers are searching for a new leader. That leader, whomever it may be, will inherit an organization with plenty of problems but ultimately one closer to stable footing than it was when Avila took over seven years ago.

But the Tigers’ exact path forward is uncertain. Does the next GM start the rebuild over? Might they push forward like 2022 never happened? Or is there a more pragmatic path to building a winner without causing the fans more extended agony?

 

Option 1: Rebuild the rebuild

This is a tough sell for so many reasons. For one, manager A.J. Hinch is under contract through 2025 and is expected to have some input on the Tigers’ GM search. Pitching coach Chris Fetter turned down the chance to become the head coach at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, earlier this year. Hinch, Fetter and the rest of the coaching staff are intent on winning in Detroit. In some ways that’s one of the big pluses of the Tigers’ executive opening. In another way, it could be a caveat against establishing a new long-term plan. Hinch, Fetter and others are unlikely to want to twiddle their thumbs for another five years while the Tigers revamp the organization and eventually the roster.

Tigers fans, too, have suffered long enough. The team has not made the playoffs since 2014. In the Avila era, Tigers fans repeatedly listened to pleas for patience as the front office banked on improving its farm system. Now it is 2022 and the Tigers could lose 98 or more games for the fourth time in the past five full MLB seasons. The Tigers rank 21st in average attendance this season, and their annual attendance figures will amount to roughly half of the nearly 3 million fans the Tigers were drawing in the early parts of the 2010s.