DETROIT -- For the past year, general manager Al Avila hesitated to put a label on the Tigers' direction. With Thursday's trades of Justin Verlander and Justin Upton, he didn't hesitate to say they're rebuilding, with a goal of building through prospects in their system rather than free agents.
"This is an obvious rebuild move," Avila said Friday. "We're trying to stock our farm system with the best prospects we can acquire, and that's how we'll move forward. Once we've finished this, at some point there will be a turnaround.
"We're going to have a rough month of September, and next year may not be all that pretty, either. But at some point in the near future, we expect this to turn around, that some of these prospects will be coming up and making a difference. And within a reasonable time then, we should be ready to go."
In that sense, Avila said, Thursday was a big day.
"We had mentioned all the way since last year, this is a team that needs to turn over the roster as we can," Avila said. "I told you guys it ain't going to be overnight. I told you guys it's going to be a process. Sure enough, it's been a process, step by step. Last night, it was the big part of the process."
The two trades, Avila said, were vastly different. While Upton's trade to the Angels for pitching prospect Grayson Long came together quickly, it also came out of nowhere. Avila said he had not been talking with the Angels about Upton until right before the midnight ET deadline for players to be traded and still be eligible for postseason rosters. However, the GM had been talking with other teams about Upton since a conversation with Upton's agent, Larry Reynolds, left him believing the outfielder would opt out of his contract at season's end if he was still a Tiger.
"There's no guarantee, obviously, but I had a sense that he would," Avila said. "So I figured that at this stage, it was best to do this deal than wait. The alternative is to really have no compensation at the end."
Trading Verlander was tougher for Avila. It had been speculated and even expected at some point since last fall, but the combination of Verlander's talent and his contract made it a lengthy negotiation that started, stalled and restarted.
"All the way since last year, we've been talking to clubs, and Houston had shown interest," Avila said. "It was kind of an ongoing thing, but it took to the final hour negotiating what they were willing to give and what we wanted to receive."
In the end, Avila said, it was a call between 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow that set the deal in motion.
"We asked for certain players. They took certain players off the table. It was back and forth," Avila said. "Obviously, when a player performs well, it helps you in a trade. Obviously, [Verlander's] performance was a big help.
"In today's market, it's so different. There's a lot of limits now on where you can move those kind of salaries, those kind of contracts. That's what really makes it difficult, and that's why this situation was kind of the perfect storm, because you had the Houston Astros, who right now have one of the best teams in all of baseball with room for luxury tax for that kind of addition to that kind of contract. Obviously, it was a good fit."
That said, Avila emphasized repeatedly that jettisoning the contract was not the priority, in the Verlander trade or any of the other deals.
"It was not a mandate to dump salary," Avila said. "That, I think, is the reason that we got a good trade in return -- because we were prepared to keep Justin Verlander for the remainder of his contract. When you have that alternative, you can stand pat and say, 'This is what we want.'"
The trade was difficult for Avila -- not just logistically, but also emotionally.
"I was there for Justin Verlander's college games," Avila said. "I was there when we signed him and we talked to him. I was there through the Minor Leagues, when he came through the organization. I was there when he first came up. I remember the game he pitched in Cleveland as a rookie [in 2005]. My son became one of his best friends. Those things really make it difficult to say, 'I'm going to trade this guy.'"
For the long-term future of the organization, Avila said, it had to happen.
"We had a great run here for close to 10 years building this organization, and we've had some good winning years," Avila said. "But basically, like most things, it comes to an end. It's a hard thing, but it's a necessary thing to be able to win in the future.
"If we didn't do this now, it would be impossible to continue to sustain a winning team. We were trying to win the last couple years with a $200 million payroll in a club that was in need of more players in different spots. But when you have that kind of payroll, you cannot keep on adding and adding and adding, because eventually you're going to go to $250 million, $300 million. When do you stop?"
That has stopped. Now, the question becomes: With the prospects they added, when can the Tigers expect to start contending again?
"Some clubs have turned it around in two to three years," Avila said. "I remember years ago, the five-year plan. And there are some teams that, quite frankly, it's taken them 10 years. I'm 59 years old. I certainly don't want a 10-year plan. I just don't see that in my vision. But I'd rather have a shorter term than a longer term, I'll tell you that. We'll be working very hard to do this in a manner where it makes sense in different steps."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.