Scott Harris Discusses Tigers’ Offseason Priorities

Scott Harris enters his first year in charge of baseball operations in Detroit. Hired as president of baseball ops shortly before the end of the season, he and his staff set to work on fortifying a roster coming off a 66-96 showing.

Harris spoke with reporters at the GM Meetings this evening and addressed a wide range of topics (via Evan Woodbery of and Cody Stavenhagen of the Athletic). In broad terms, the executive expressed a general openness to any way of improving the roster, including the possibility of trading prospects for immediate big league talent. Yet Harris also highlighted a few specific areas the front office would like to address. On the position player side, he suggested the club could use a left-handed hitting infielder and a right-handed hitting outfielder. He also expressed an unsurprising desire for pitching help.

As far as the lineup goes, Detroit’s present infield indeed skews right-handed. Spencer TorkelsonJonathan Schoop and Javier Báez all hit from that side of the dish, as do Miguel Cabrera and rookie Ryan KreidlerJeimer Candelario and Willi Castro are switch-hitters, but each could plausibly be non-tendered next week. That’s also true of lefty-swinging Harold Castro. Harris didn’t address the status of either Castro, but he did note the team had still yet to decide how to proceed with Candelario (via Woodbery). After two straight well above-average showings in 2020-21, the third baseman stumbled to a .217/.272/.361 line through 467 plate appearances this year. With a projected salary around $7MM for his final season of arbitration eligibility, he could well be let go after that down year.

Schoop and Báez are the in-house favorites for middle infield work, with both under contract for next season. Schoop had a terrible offensive season but played Gold Glove caliber defense at second base; he triggered a $7.5MM player option last week. Báez still has five years remaining on the $140MM free agent deal he inked last winter. He only managed a .238/.278/.393 line with mediocre defensive marks during his first season in Detroit, but there’s never been much question the two-time All-Star would get another crack as the everyday shortstop in 2023. Harris confirmed as much this evening, adding that he considered the dip in Báez’s typically strong defense an anomaly (via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News).

Perhaps the most interesting infield decision for Detroit comes at first base. Torkelson, a former first overall pick and top prospect, didn’t hit the ground running at the big league level. He managed just a .203/.285/.319 line through his first 404 MLB plate appearances, a supremely disappointing showing for a player who’d mashed at every stop before reaching the majors. At age 23, Torkelson still has plenty of time to figure things out at the highest level, but it remains to be seen if the Tigers will give him the Opening Day job again in 2023. Harris implied the organization still considers Torkelson the first baseman of the future but seemed to leave open the possibility of him starting the year back at Triple-A Toledo, saying “at (first base) and every other position, we’re going to look for ways to get better.

Free agency doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of left-handed hitting second or third base options. Adam Frazier could be a bounceback target after a down year in Seattle, while Jace Peterson looks to have a shot at a two-year deal after a solid couple seasons in Milwaukee. That could point to the trade market or waiver wire being the clearer path for additions, but the desire for a right-handed outfielder is easier to fill via free agency. Players like Adam DuvallTommy PhamChad Pinder and AJ Pollock are available corner players. None is a great fit for center field, but the Tigers seem likely to let Riley Greene get most of the work up the middle regardless.

While Harris didn’t specify pitching targets, it seems likely the front office will prioritize rotation additions. Casey Mize will miss most or all of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it looks as if Tarik Skubal may not be ready for Opening Day after undergoing flexor surgery in August. Detroit could be without arguably their two best arms, although they did provide a favorable update on their other top young pitcher, Matt Manning. After a forearm strain ended Manning’s season a few days early, he was sent for a second opinion last month. That sounded ominous, but the Tigers maintained confidence he wouldn’t need to go under the knife and things appear to be progressing smoothly. In an update this evening, Detroit called Manning “symptom-free” and suggested he was in line for a normal offseason (via Stavenhagen).

That’s obviously welcome news that should position him to join Eduardo Rodríguez and Spencer Turnbull in the season-opening rotation. There’s still enough uncertainty at the back end the Tigers figure to dip into the lower tiers of free agency and/or turn to trades to add some stable innings behind that trio.

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