With three of the city’s franchises currently in the midst of their offseason and the other struggling mightily, it felt like the perfect opportunity to rank each of the general managers in Detroit Sports.
All four major sports teams in Detroit are currently rebuilding and have been for quite some time. The positive among fans over the past few years is always, sure, everyone is rebuilding now, but wait until they are all contending simultaneously.
The problem? Some organizations seem to be further along than others.
Ranking Detroit sports’ general managers from worst to the most promising.
The worst general manager in Detroit sports is easy and not debatable; I present you with Al Avila.
The Detroit Tigers have been rebuilding for at least five years now or longer, depending on who you ask. Tigers general manager Al Avila can’t seem to get out of his own way. Avila is on borrowed time, and I would be shocked if he resumes his position following Major League Baseball’s 2022 Trade Deadline. With the MLB Draft vast approaching, the timing doesn’t exactly work in Christopher Ilitch’s favor to remove Avila from office immediately.
Changing GMs ahead of the trade deadline seems like the correct thing to do for an organization that is looking to make a change. You don’t want a GM you are planning on firing making transactions at the deadline. Still, history shows ownership is more likely to put the clamps on Avila through the deadline, clear any potential transactions beforehand, and part ways the day following. If you recall, Avila was promoted after Dave Dombrowski handled the trade deadline in 2015.
Avila is known to publicly share his plan with the rest of the league. You think I am joking, but I am not. Over and over again, whether it is at the Winter Meetings, Spring Training, or in free agency, Avila always shows his hand. He’d be the worst poker player on earth; not precisely a fond trait when running an organization.
The list of management blunders Al Avila has made during his tenure with the Detroit Tigers is quite incredible.
Avila tried to make a splash in his first offseason at the helm by signing Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Justin Upton, Mark Lowe, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Mike Aviles. The only player that proved to be worth anything out of this list was Upton, who we will get to again shortly.
After spending a massive amount of money in 2015, Avila pumped the brakes in ’16, signing one free agent; his son. Alex Avila might be Al Avila’s best free-agent addition when you consider the return he garnered a few months later, shipping Avila along with Justin Wilson to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Jeimer Candelario. Yes, Jeimer Candelario, who is slashing .187/.237/.313 this season for the Tigers, might be Avila’s greatest return. Don’t forget; the Tigers had massive assets to trade during Avila’s tenure, including Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos, and Justin Upton.
Other notable free-agent signings over the years include Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Ivan Nova, and more recently, Eduardo Rodriquez, and Javier Baez.
Look at all the swings and misses over the years. There are some valuable players here, such as Schoop, Upton, Fiers, Cron, Baez, and hopefully Rodriquez, but it’s mostly a bunch of depth starters and role players the organization hoped would perform beyond their means. Before I continue berating Avila, he made a few awesome draft selections, including Riley Greene, Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, and Spencer Torkelson.
Now, let’s look at some of Al Avila’s returns via trade.
The Detroit Tigers landed Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for J.D. Martinez. Yikes. Avila traded Upton to the Los Angeles Angels for Grayson Long and a player to be named later. The player to be named later ended up being Elvin Rodriguez, who struggled mightily in his brief stint with the club earlier this year. If you recall, Rodriguez got bombed by the Yankees while tipping his pitches.
Let’s see how Avila fared in the Castellanos trade. Detroit shipped their home-grown slugger to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Alex Lange and Paul Richan. Lange is beginning to look like a vital back-of-the-pen arm for the Detroit Tigers, but Richan is a 25-year-old currently pitching in Single-A Lakeland. The highest Richan has gotten so far in his career is Double-A Erie, where he made eight appearances last season.
Finally, let’s recall the return Avila secured for the organization’s prized possession Justin Verlander. The Tigers sent the future Hall Of Fame starter to Houston, receiving a return of Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, and Daz Cameron. That’s it. Al Avila has proved to us time and time again that he is not only the worst general manager in Detroit and perhaps all of baseball.
Avila has performed so poorly that he’s garnered national attention. Recently Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic published an article stating executives around the league don’t feel that Al Avila is savvy or crafty enough to turn things around in Detroit.
If that doesn’t get Christopher Ilitch’s attention, nothing will. Avila is on borrowed time and needs to be relieved of his duties immediately following the MLB Draft. The Detroit Tigers are currently lagging behind the other three organizations in Detroit sports.
3 Brad Holmes comes in at no. 3 as I rank Detroit sports’ general managers.
Detroit Lions fans will look at this as being a negative, and the truth is, now, with Al Avila out of the way, the remainder of this article will have a much more optimistic feel to it. Holmes appears to be exactly what the Detroit Lions have needed for years but struggled to find.
The one significant knock-on Holmes to date from about half of Detroit’s fan base will be that he traded franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford and he immediately won a Super Bowl elsewhere. It’s a deal that needed to be done, which is something half of the fan base will refuse to acknowledge. Stafford requested a trade, and after failing to grant Calvin Johnson a ticket out of town and fracturing their relationship with Barry Sanders in the past, the organization obliged.
The Detroit Lions are trying to rebuild their reputation, and Holmes seems like the perfect fit. Despite not having a franchise quarterback and only winning three games last season, the mood around the organization feels different than it had in years past. Despite Holmes not hiring head coach Dan Campbell, as it was more of an arranged marriage by ownership, the pair seem to be in lockstep which is vital to a team’s success.
At this point, I can only really critique Holmes on the NFL Draft and free agency. After inheriting nothing short of a dumpster fire of a roster, Holmes signed a pair of veteran free agent receivers in Breshard Perriman and Tyrell Williams, both of which failed to work out. Holmes did find lesser name contributors that appear to have a future littering them throughout the roster, like Jerry Jacobs, A.J. Parker, Craig Reynolds, and Josh Reynolds. Holmes also elected to pair a proven entity in Jamaal Williams via free agency with D’Andre Swift. This past offseason, Holmes also signed DJ Chark, Mike Hughes, and DeShon Elliott.
I was impressed with Holmes’ first two drafts as GM of the organization. The Lions secured star offensive tackle Penei Sewell and found Amon-Ra St. Brown in the mid-rounds. The Lions followed that up by landing edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson and trading up to ensure the offensive weapon, Jameson Williams, just a couple of months ago.
While the jury is still out, the Detroit Lions finally appear to be headed in the right direction with Brad Holmes at the helm.
2 Steve Yzerman ranks as Detroit sports’ no. 2 general manager.
You’d have to go back to winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 over the Pittsburgh Penguins if you were looking for a more exciting day in recent history than the one when Steve Yzerman was announced as the organization’s next general manager.
Yzerman built the bully in Tampa Bay who has gone to the Stanley Cup Finals three straight years winning back-to-back Championships. Unfortunately for Yzerman, he elected to step down in the preseason of 2018 and never reaped the benefits of the roster he began to reconstruct back in 2010. That being said, Yzerman, who inherited Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, paired those superstars with Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Andrei Vasilevskiy through the NHL Draft. Yzerman also made difficult decisions early on in his tenure trading away players like Martin St. Louis, Ben Bishop, and Jonathan Drouin. He’s fearless, and exactly the perfect change of pace the organization needed following the loyal to a fault mentality of Ken Holland.
Although the Detroit Red Wings are rebuilding, we’ve seen Yzerman’s expertise in full force over the past couple of seasons. Yzerman shockingly drafted Moritz Seider with the no. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Level Draft. Seider is coming off a Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL’s rookie of the year. Seider is the first Red Wing to win the award since the Original Six era. Yzerman also drafted Lucas Raymond with the no. 4 overall pick the following year. Raymond was also a finalist for the Calder Trophy this past season. Instead of more Trevor Daleys’, Mike Greens’ and Jonathan Ericssons’ we’re finally seeing a much-needed youth movement in Detroit.
Last summer, the Detroit Red Wings drafted defenseman Simon Edvinsson no. 4 overall and Sebastian Cossa no. 15 overall in the first round. Edvinsson is a 6-foot-5 defender that is expected to play in Grand Rapids next season. Cossa is a towering 6-foot-6 netminder that excelled this past season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Cossa has backboned the Oil Kings to a Memorial Cup berth.
Now, it’s hard to say if Raymond, Cossa, and Seider will become Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy. Still, as it stands now, there is an abundance of promise surrounding this group of young prospects, and knowing Yzerman’s track record only amplifies things.
1 Troy Weaver ranks as the top general manager in Detroit sports.
This may come as a surprise, but when you look at what Troy Weaver has built with the Detroit Pistons, it’s impossible to be excited. For obvious reasons, the man nicknamed ‘trader’ Troy quickly overhauled the Pistons roster shortly after being hired as GM.
Weaver cleared out aging veterans like Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond. A deal often overlooked is the return Weaver secured for Rose. The Pistons landed Dennis Smith and a second-round pick for Rose. Although Smith failed to work out, Weaver turned the draft pick into Isaiah Livers. Livers came on late last season with Detroit and appeared to hold value coming in as a spot-up shooter off the bench.
The Pistons granted Griffin a release and received Brandon Knight, John Henson, plus a second-round pick in 2023 for Drummond. Not a huge return, but Weaver needs to be rewarded for not signing Drummond to a contract extension. At the time, Drummond hoped to land a max deal from the Pistons, which would have turned out to be disastrous, only prolonging the rebuild. A great general manager knows to move on from a player a year early rather than signing them to an extension a year too late.
Weaver has landed a few contributors in free agency like Kelly Olynyk, along with finding successful reclamation projects like Marvin Bagley III. However, he has cut his teeth drafting what appears to be a stellar core with playoff aspirations next season. Weaver didn’t only land Cade Cunningham but also Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes.
Just last week, hours ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft, Weaver flipped forward Jerami Grant to Portland for draft capital which was quickly flipped to secure Jalen Duran midway through the first round. This after Weaver played his cards perfectly and saw star guard Jaden Ivey land in Detroit’s lap.
It was known that the Sacramento Kings, who sat with the no. 4 overall pick, coveted Keegan Murray, and it was thought that Detroit was eyeing Ivey, but after trading Grant, Murray became an option for the Pistons. Weaver, who could teach Al Avila a thing or two about bluffing, continued to say all options were on the table. The Kings could not trade back for fear that someone would select Ivey fourth overall, leaving the Pistons to possibly take Murray.
Rather than shooting themselves in the foot, Sacramento stood pat, and Detroit got the player they likely wanted all along (assuming the top three bigs would be all gone).
Weaver is working with a roster a fraction of the size of Holmes and half the size of Yzerman and Avila, which makes the turnover significantly quicker, but that shouldn’t discount the group he’s built.