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New Tigers GM, Al Avila, has tough road ahead

Al Avila is inheriting a team that has won four consecutive division titles, and been to the World Series twice since 2006, but it's not going to be smooth sailing ahead.

Earlier today, Tigers owner Mike Illitch announced that he had released Dave Dombrowski from his contract so that he could "pursue other career opportunities." This was somewhat of a surprise, as most people assumed that if Detroit did make a change after their ominous closed door meeting, the more likely outcome would be that Brad Ausmus had been removed from his role as manager. Now that Dombrowski is gone, Al Avila has been thrust into the spotlight.

Avila has been an executive with the Tigers for the past 14 years, and will now assume the role of GM, and VP of Baseball Operations. Despite the vast success of the Tigers over the past decade, and recent haul that Dombrowski acquired via the trades of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria, he's not walking into the best situation.

2016 2017 2018 2019
Justin Verlander $28,000,000 $28,000,000 $28,000,000 $28,000,000
Miguel Cabrera $28,000,000 $28,000,000 $30,000,000 $30,000,000
Anibal Sanchez $16,800,000 $16,800,000 $16,000,000* UFA
Ian Kinsler $14,000,000 $11,000,000 $10,000,000* UFA
Victor Martinez $18,000,000 $18,000,000 $18,000,000 UFA
J.D. Martinez ARB 2 ARB 3 UFA -
Alberto Alburquerque ARB 2 ARB 3 UFA -
Jose Iglesias ARB 1 ARB 2 ARB 3 UFA
Andrew Romine ARB 1 ARB 2 ARB 3 UFA
Total $104,800,000 $101,800,000 $76,000,000 $58,000,000

The next three years are going to be challenging for Avila, as his owner wants to win now, but with the money that is already committed to various aging stars, he doesn't have much flexibility. While Miguel Cabrera has remained fantastically valuable, he's owed $210 million over the next eight years (his age 40 season), and is likely to become a financial burden on his team during that time. His teammate, Justin Verlander, has unfortunately already reached that point. He's owed $112 million from 2016-2019, and in the past two years, he's earned $48 million despite being worth just 2.9 fWAR in that timespan.

Dombrowski also inked Victor Martinez, who was coming off a career year in his age 35 season, to a four-year deal worth $68 million. He's been worth -0.9 fWAR in 2015, and has suffered several knee injuries recently. Anibal Sanchez is another one of Dombrowski's signings, and he's posted diminishing value since 2013. There's also the matter of arbitration, and potentially wanting to lock up J.D. Martinez, who has blossomed into a star. He's hit 52 home runs in his last 236 games, and is undoubtedly in line for a hefty raise in the near future.

Somehow, Avila is going to need to secure valuable talent to make up for the declining production of his current players, and with limited money. That's not meant to imply that the Tigers don't have one of the largest payrolls in baseball (fourth, $173.8 million), but rather that once arbitration is factored in, Avila will have roughly $110-$120 million already committed to his 2016 team.

Heading into next season, excluding Verlander and Sanchez, the Tigers have three unknowns in their rotation. Alfredo Simon is a free agent, Buck Farmer isn't a legitimate starter, and Daniel Norris is still a prospect until he proves otherwise. It's not that he's not talented, as FanGraphs rates his future value at 60, but it's far too early to make any definitive statements on him. Detroit also has question marks at two of their outfield spots, third base, and most of their bullpen.

Avila will have roughly $80 million to to spend in the offseason (assuming Illitch doesn't drastically increase payroll). Teams have shown it's possible to win with less, but most of them are able to accomplish a higher level of success through rebuilding in the draft and developing home grown players. In his final act as GM, Dombrowski did well in the trade deadline, and two of the pitchers he acquired have high ceilings, but even if they pan out, Avila still has a lot of work to do.