Media Needs To Ask Chris Ilitch If He’d Take Offers On Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are starting over again, just weeks after their owner said he was "very pleased" with their progress, and only a few months after telling the media that his team's rebuild was "100 percent" over.
Having fired much-maligned Al Avila, the Tigers are now searching for their next GM. But the press conference owner Chris Ilitch held in the immediate wake of Avila's dismissal didn't make a good impression.
It's painfully palpable that Ilitch isn't as passionate about Detroit's MLB franchise as his father was. But fans and media alike have long speculated that Ilitch isn't engaged as the Tigers owner and, instead of prioritizing winning and the pursuit of the team's first World Series title in nearly 40 years, is more focused on keeping the organization as profitable as possible.
Last week's press conference didn't assuage those concerns as Ilitch seemed aloof, having to reference note cards before mentioning specific players by name, and unwilling to accept responsibility for the failure of a rebuild that began in earnest five years ago.
But as Ilitch took question after question just minutes after firing Avila, side-stepping the media's attempts to hold him accountable as the billionaire owner of the Tigers, no reporter asked perhaps the most obvious question:
"Chris, you don't seem particularly committed to or engrossed with the Tigers, so would you take offers on the franchise if serious suitors inquired?"
It's a fair and, frankly, begged question, given Ilitch's handling of the ball club since inheriting control after his father's death in 2017.
The Ilitchs would turn a massive profit if they were to sell the franchise. The Tigers are valued at an estimated $1.4 billion in 2022, according to Forbes. That's up more than 1,500 percent from the reported $85 million the family paid when purchasing the club in 1992. Even when adjusting for inflation the Tigers' value has increased over 800 percent in that span.
Several parties have been rumored to be interested in purchasing the Tigers in the past, including Dan Gilbert, the Detroit-centric billionaire owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers who has many properties and large-scale redevelopments in the Motor City. Gilbert has publicly denied any such interest.
Ilitch has publicly denied that the Tigers are for sale, as recently as April:
“Absolutely not. I don’t guarantee much, but I can pretty well guarantee in my lifetime, we will not sell the Tigers or the Red Wings. We won’t for several reasons. First and foremost, I love both sports. They’re actually the sports that I played my entire life, and I was really good at them.
"Secondly, my parents love these sports and have built a legacy. I’m focused on continuing that legacy and adding to it. And third, these teams are part of the fabric of the community. You see it with the Stanley Cup parades down Woodward. You’ve seen it with all the joy when the Tigers won it in ‘84, and even in ’06 and ‘12 winning a pennant. Sports add to the quality of life in our community. I take that very seriously.”
Let's be real — everybody has a price. That's especially true in the world of big business, which just so happens to be the exact same world Ilitch operates within.
Ilitch indicated at last week's press conference that he believes the Tigers have committed enough resources during his tenure as owner to produce a championship contender. But, since 2018, Detroit's payroll has ranked on average 21st in the majors.
Of the last 27 World Series champions, 24 have had payrolls ranked in the top half of the MLB. To make the top half, the Tigers would have to add something like $15 million or $20 million in salary (and add another $30 million to that if/when Miguel Cabrera retires). And to land in the Top 7, where Detroit often found itself while making runs at the World Series in the early 2010s, the club would have to get to the $200 million threshold.
It's one thing for Ilitch to lack the passion his father had for the Tigers. But on top of seeming disinterested, if he's not willing to increase spending to a competitive level, then why wouldn't he consider a massive payday in exchange for offloading the franchise?
The obvious answer is that an MLB franchise is a golden goose that's simply too lucrative to give up. For example, the Atlanta Braves turned a $104 million profit during their World Series championship season in 2021.
But the price of real estate makes it a real seller's market right now. Even with a valuation of $1.4 billion, Ilitch could reasonably set the Tigers' asking price at $2 billion, courtesy of inflation and the booming property market.
Perhaps that wouldn't change Ilitch's mind. Even so, reporters should get him on the record as to whether the Tigers remain off the market.