Ok we haven’t done this in a while. Writers get rusty after a long winter just as players do, but we’re firing up the ship to cover another scintillating season of Detroit Tigers baseball. Oh, did that sound like sarcasm?
Actually, I think most of us are looking forward to seeing the Tigers direction under new leadership. Reviews on a pretty mild, measured first offseason from new President Scott Harris aren’t going to be hugely positive, but it’s also really hard to criticize a single move he made this offseason. Everything made sense and felt part of a larger plan, which is at least an improvement over the prior group. By and large, the problem is that Al Avila left the Tigers in a tight spot with high end prospect talent that hasn’t really come to fruition. At least, not yet.
For now, let’s just take the staff temperature as spring camps kicks into high gear with full team workouts beginning on Monday.
How do you feel about Scott Harris after his first offseason?
Peter Kwasniak: This is a tough question since it’s hard to separate the moves of the President/GM from the overall organizational situation, but I’ll try my best.
If I’m focusing on the moves Scott Harris has made and assuming he has no control over payroll splurges, I think he’s done a very smart and shrewd job in the 5 months he’s been on the job. IMO, he inherited quite the train wreck but with some bright spots. He has a roster with plenty of young talent, but most are hurt or struggled last year. But he also has plenty of struggling veterans that look like they may never play up to their contract or are severely underperforming. Couple that with the rest of the roster partly filled with players that probably shouldn’t even be in a starting position in the majors, and he had his work cut out for him.
His best moves, by far were purging the front office of longtime Avila lieutenants in player evaluation and development, although it was actually Avila who finally fired Dave Littlefield late in 2021. And then he followed up by poaching two very prominent names from two very successful organizations to lead those areas. Those moves alone could be the keys to a brighter future for the Tigers.
Combine that with his purge of the roster of several players who have long since proven they are nothing special and barely replacement level, and it feels like throwing open the windows on a dusty old house after a long winter. It’s simply good to see someone finally trying something new and being aggressive in churning through the back of the roster to see who’s worth keeping and who can be moved on from.
His trades weren’t super flashy but when I step back and look at what he had to work with, dealing from the bullpen, a place where stars rise and fall like a carrousel, was wise. Yeah, it was the best bullpen the Tigers have had in recent memory but, if you get two consecutive good years out of the same reliever, you’re generally ahead of the curve. He flipped his best relievers for controllable players that can play right now, are better than the AAAA players they replaced, and fit a very specific type of hitter he wants the team to reflect. Justyn-Henry Malloy is the very model of that type of hitter he wants the Tigers to be. Plate discipline and strike zone control to the extreme. That’s the kind of hitting approach the Tigers have seen for years in Cleveland and don’t you just HATE facing that team? Time for the Tigers to flip the script.
On the free agent side, he’s gathered some starters that should be easily tradeable at the deadline when they can hopefully welcome back Skubal and call up more budding young starters like Flores or Reese Olson. Yeah, the name of the games in 2023 will still be acquiring and developing talent, but if that’s the plan, Harris has positioned the team much better to hit the ground running in that aspect.
So, in conclusion, Harris has done a good job on paper following a plan based on dealing with the hand he was dealt. The 2023 season is going to all come down to how the former blue-chip prospects do, but the Tigers’ immediate future was always tied to how Greene, Tork, Mize, Skubal, and Manning do right now. Now it’s time to develop and acquire the next group of blue-chip prospects, and with the new staff and excellent draft position this summer, they look like they will be in a much better position to do that.
Brandon Day: Good answer. That one is pretty close to an article on its own.
Peter: It’s largely just recycled points from comments and articles I’ve already written, lol.
Rob Rogacki: Speaking of recycling, I’m not sure the lower level roster churn that seemed to comprise most of this offseason is really going to change much on the field. Harris and his front office might be in just as much of a “let’s see what we really have here” mindset as we are, but I can’t say that I’m any more excited for this season than I have been recently. This team was always only going to go as far as the young core will take them, and I’m very concerned that the answer is going to be “not far.”
Zane Harding: Harris is going to have to prove it to me. This was an underwhelming offseason to me, at least on paper.
I definitely agree with Peter’s description of Harris’s moves being “shrewd”, and I concede that shrewdness is somewhat by requirement. This team needs to see major signs of prolonged health and/or development from 2-3 of its five recently graduated prospects (Torkelson, Greene, Mize, Manning, Skubal) for me to have any interest in loading these team up with significant contracts; we have all seen first-hand what overloading a team that isn’t ready for prolonged success with gaudy contracts can do to an organization. If one or none of those guys break out, this organization might as well be back at 2018.
Like Rob, I’m not excited for this season, as I am sure many people relate to — the top prospect core was healthier as a composite group this time last year, albeit less experienced, and that hype train derailing has firmly put the Tigers at the bottom of the Detroit sports hierarchy, which is a tough group to be ranked with in the first place. (Disclaimer: I do not blame anybody who hopped on the hype train in 2022, as I was guilty myself; there was nothing to be excited for in 2018-21.)
As for the moves themselves, I’ll start with the positive: I too am glad Harris purged the Avila administration and cleared out the absurd amount of replacement-level players we have been running out. This was the bare minimum, to me; the kind of move that any average reader of Bless You Boys could knock out in a week flat, but that a Matt Millen level executive like Avila could never grasp in the first place.
With that said, I have serious doubts whether any of Maton, Vierling, or Sands are much more than the same old role players with a fresh coat of Scott Harris paint (maybe a bit harsh on Maton, but I’ve been bitten on buying a small sample size too many times before), and I would never have signed Boyd or Lorenzen myself. I can see the raw upside with the pitching signings, but I gave up on Boyd breaking out years ago along with the rest of this fanbase and I have no interest in poaching pitchers from the Angels rotation of all teams. If I squint, I can maybe see the possibility of them being deadline flips like Peter suggested (all it takes is a classic Boyd hot streak to cancel out his random 6.00 ERA month, and perhaps Lorenzen will become Diet Ohtani Zero given the likely at-bats this barren lineup will need as the season unfolds). Throughout most of the offseason, though, I felt overwhelmingly underwhelmed.
It doesn’t even make sense to tank anymore with the lottery, and it never made sense to tank in baseball in the first place. This team had twice the replacement-level hitters than the next team in 2022, and we got rid of more guys than we added. Not that Harris inherited a whole lot to work with. If any pundit is ranking your farm worst in the majors, something is not working, so we seriously need the Hinch coaching tree to start working their magic.
I like Wilmer Flores, although I am bracing myself in case he doesn’t perform as well as he did in 2022 (pitcher syndrome; not a knock on him specifically). I am personally a major believer in Colt Keith, but he’s no sure thing, and while I am hoping for 2023 JacksonJobe and Jace Jung upswings, I’d only bet on one of them pulling off a 2023 breakout. I don’t particularly love our depth beyond the fringe-top 100 guys, although that’s an indictment on Avila and not Harris, who added one of the more compelling prospects in the system (Malloy) for the cost of a highly volatile reliever. I dunno guys. This team’s in a bad position.
- The Bally bankruptcy may give Chris Ilitch a reason not to spend more in the near future
- The farm is somewhere between average and bottom-tier at the moment, after FIVE years of attempting to accumulate young talent
- This lineup likely couldn’t make the postseason even if Torkelson broke out for 40 home runs and Greene managed a 20/20 season
- The rotation is a rotation full of #4 pitchers (the “4” is what their ERA is projected to start with)
The first two are out of Harris’s control, but I don’t think he’s done enough to give this team any chance of prosperity this season and he could (should) have picked up an outfielder other than Vierling given the fact that Meadows barely played in 2022 and Baddoo is the perfect guy to start off as a fourth outfielder. One of Boyd or Lorenzen could (should) be a more valuable/reliable asset for the rotation, as well.
Adam Dubbin: While Harris himself is a welcomed change from the previous general manager, there has not been much to move the needle otherwise. It is still very early and he and his staff need a chance to walk the walk after talking the talk, but at the same time it looks like we’re in for yet another losing season with a carousel of even-to-negative WAR players getting a bulk of the game time. My colleagues have already done a good job outlining some of those issues in this roundtable and I have no argument with their respective points.The tl;dr is that I am willing to be patient but I would like to see at least some significant move that indicates that the franchise isn’t just going to play dead for another season.
Brandon: Yeah I can understand a season of them getting the house in order, but they’ve got to understand that we’ve been waiting a decade for good baseball now. This is pretty hard to swallow as it is.
Adam: Bringing in the fences is just not enough to get me excited, and that seems like the most significant change that has been made so far — outside of the front office personnel and the new coaches.
Peter: I’ll follow up my post with a short disclaimer that I think the reason I’m so high on Harris’s moves is that things like firing incompetent VPs and building a team with an identity seem so earthshattering (even though they are bare minimum moves as Zane pointed out) because I’ve been fed 7 years of watching someone throw stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. (edited)
Adam: No disagreement there. But there’s also a sense of “We’re just going to wait out the last year of Cabrera’s contract before doing anything” as well, which is a continuation of the status quo. (edited)
Peter: I can totally see that, especially since they (Chris I.) used the same line about the Zimmerman contract. I’ve never had that specific worry, I’ve seen it as more of “We’re going to see if Tork, Greene, ect... are worth building around or if we have to start from square 1.” But I can totally see your side too.
Brady McAtamney: My condensed answer: I’m not moved one way or the other. He did the right thing by cutting the fat from the roster, but nothing was really done to truly fill those gaps in with anything more than adequate talent. I liked him being bold and moving Jimenez and Soto. But every free agency signing was yawn-inducing at best and disappointing at worst. Basically, all we know for certain is that he’s willing to play the long game with the roster construction, and while it’s frustrating as all hell, it’s probably the wisest way to go about it, initially.
Jeremy (Mr. Sunshine): This offseason felt like that new years resolution where you go to the gym and kick all your bad habits...for a month. Then back to business as usual but hey, you’ve at least got a gym membership when you need it. A bit of excitement with making some needed changes, and then the signings were extremely ho-hum.
Brady: It’s going to go down as entirely forgettable. But hey, at least they didn’t go backwards… I think.
Jeremy: The offense certainly would have difficulty going backwards after last year
Cameron Kaiser: The Tigers still trying to make progress after the last 8 years. It might not be entertaining, but at least it can’t get any worse!
Brandon: I just feel really torn, because there’s so much to be optimistic about with the new front office/coaches/development/scouting, but it’s hard to see that making a major, immediate impact on the field. I think they’ve done a really nice job adding minor league free agent arms and should be able to tune a couple guys up if they’re as good as I believe, but that isn’t going to win them many more games, if any. So this year is mostly going to be about biting our nails hoping Tork and Greene get it going. I think they will, and this will be a pretty entertaining season more like what we looked for the past two years. But if they struggle again we’re arguably back to square one.
Zane: Man I could’ve just said that...
Jason Law: How do I feel about Scott Harris? He’s a guy. He ain’t Avila. He’s got good credentials. He’s been on the job a few months, trying to clean up after an incredibly mediocre... what’s it been, six years? Ten? Twenty? I’ve lost all track of time. I do know that relief pitchers are fungible, and dealing Soto and Jímenez for someone that might address a need, or be flipped later, is what you want to do. The spring will do a lot to show how those deals work towards achieving Harris’ goals, so I’m curious to see what the next few weeks brings.
Ashley MacLennan: It’s a big ole “meh” for me until I see how this season actually plays out. I was really disappointed in the Tigers for doing almost nothing of major note in the offseason, but I’m also used to them disappointing me in general. Obviously we have to give it time and see how things go before declaring it either a bust or an actual “hmm, okay this guy might be onto something” revelation.
Patrick O’Kennedy: I’ll just give them an incomplete grade. Harris is making very welcome changes to the organizational structure, but the Tigers posted their worst offensive production last season since 1905 and they’ve done little or nothing to improve the lineup. Wait and see.