Detroit — The Tigers’ roster is going to undergo changes, probably big changes, and probably quite soon.
But Scott Harris, the team’s new president, wasn’t about to make any declarations Tuesday, his first day on the job, when he hasn’t yet most of the people in the organization who are going to help him decide who figures to be part of the long-term future and who doesn’t.
One topic he will have to address is what to do with the aging Miguel Cabrera, who is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest Tigers hitter ever. He’s also going to be 40 in April, and has been a negative-WAR player for the last six seasons. Cabrera has one more year on his contract, for $32 million, and despite some crossed wires through the media, eventually insisted he plans to play in 2023.
“Those are totally fair questions,” Harris said, when asked a two-pronged query — about the state of the Tigers’ farm system, and what the future holds for Cabrera, who collected is 500th homer last year, his 3,000th hit this year, but struggled down the stretch amid more injuries.
“I also have to sit down with Miguel and talk to him.”
Cabrera isn’t the main reason behind the Tigers’ offensive woes in 2022; he’s one of many reasons, with a .626 OPS and four homers in 103 games.
Javier Báez is another. The free-agent shortstop signed with Detroit for six years and $140 million, and has a .676 OPS. He has more errors (26) than walks (25) or home runs (14).
Harris said he hasn’t spoken to Báez since they both were with the Cubs in 2019, before Harris took the general manager job with the San Francisco Giants. Báez played his first 7½ seasons in Chicago, finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting in 2018.
“I’ve seen the absolute best version of Javy. He is a dynamic, impact player,” Harris told a scrum of reporters following his introductory press conference Tuesday at Comerica Park. “He brings energy and 80 (rating) onfield makeup to every game he plays. I don’t know what has happened here in Detroit, but the first step to figuring that out is sitting down with Javy, trying to figure out what this season has been like for him and figuring out ways that we can support him better so that we can help bring the absolute best out of him.
“I can assure you, if me and Javy bring the best out of him, it’s a very exciting player.”
GM on to-do list
Harris will have a partner running the Tigers. He confirmed Tuesday he will hire a general manager, bringing to Detroit what’s become a popular hierarchy setup in many front offices throughout MLB.
“These jobs are increasingly large and complicated,” Harris said, noting they had the president-GM setup in San Francisco and during his Cubs tenure, as well. “Every single year they get more complex. Having another bright and talented person to partner with in these jobs is critically important.
“I think it gives you an edge, bringing more talented people to this front office and empowering them to make decisions that ultimately can put out a better team on the field.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, and I think a GM is going to be a big part of that.”
Harris said he has no timetable for hiring a general manager. Surely, he has some names in mind, given his many years in the game, and all the connections he’s made. But he also doesn’t know many of the people within the Tigers’ organization very well, and he wants to do that before he makes any rash decisions.
Some of those conversations will be with Sam Menzin (early 30s) and Jay Sartori (early 40s), who were promoted to assistant general managers by the Tigers last summer.
“There are some people in this organization that have tremendous reputations throughout the game,” Harris said. “They absolutely could be a candidate.”
The Tigers’ rebuild was supposed to be over. Now, maybe it’s not.
Either way, Harris declined to put a label on Detroit’s situation, which includes four 90-plus-loss seasons out of the last six (and it might be five if not for the COVID-shortened 2020 season).
“I don’t think labels are all that instructive. Labels aren’t even a guarantee that what you intend to do will happen,” he said. “We’re going to make a lot of moves, a lot of those moves are going to have strong conviction and confidence behind them, some of those moves are going to be calculated risks.
“We have to take calculated risks. That’s an opportunity for us to narrow that gap.”
Asked if he’s confident Christopher Ilitch will continue to spend significantly on free agents in the coming years, Harris said the organization has a history of providing necessary resources and he sees no reason why that would change now. The Tigers spent nearly a quarter-billion dollars last offseason, acquiring the likes of Báez, Eduardo Rodriguez and others.
As for Ilitch’s take on the situation and “rebuild” label?
“On the short term, I want us to regain our momentum,” Ilitch said, citing the progress made in 2021, which made the ballclub and fans so excited for a 2022 season that ultimately was a disaster. “We saw improvement and we saw momentum.
“We want to see winning baseball in Detroit. We want to qualify for the playoffs and ultimately we want to win a world championship. That’s the objective. Let’s see if we can’t regain some of that momentum.”
Getting to know Hinch
Tigers manager AJ Hinch was expected to play a big role in the search for a new front-office chief, leading many to believe the hire could be someone with strong ties to Hinch. Well, Hinch did play a big role, and Harris was the hire, despite not really knowing Hinch all that well.
The two already have had many spirited discussions, Harris said.
“I’ve talked to AJ a lot throughout this process,” said Harris, 35. “I had never met him. But we’ve had many conversations about his role and his vision for the organization. One thing I was struck by was how easily we would fall into some healthy debate about in-game strategy, about how to deploy players in the best way to allow them to be successful and how to develop players at this level.
“It’s a very comfortable conversation very early on when you get to know him and that meant a lot to me and it made me feel comfortable here.
“I know he’s very prepared to manage his way to the organization that we want to build here.”
Hinch, 48, is finishing his second season on the job, and despite some midseason rumblings, there is no opt-out in his five-year contract that would allow him to depart should a better situation open up elsewhere.
One of the surprising names mentioned as part of the Tigers’ search committee: Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman, the Red Wings’ legendary captain who now is vice president and general manager of the Red Wings, had multiple conversations with Harris during the process.
“It’s a unique opportunity to have two heads of operations under the same ownership group,” Harris said. “I’ll imagine I’ll be talking to him quite a bit for some advice.
“I know I can learn a lot from him.”
This wasn’t the first time the two met, actually.
Once, during Harris’ time in the Cubs’ front office, Yzerman visited their suite at Wrigley Field.
“I remember being very impressed by him,” Harris said. “And I was even more impressed by him here.”
By taking the Tigers’ job, Harris is leaving his home. He was GM of the Giants for three years, in the shadow of where he grew up, in Redwood City. He grew up going to Giants’ games. So you can understand why he called the decision to leave a “difficult” one.
But the Tigers’ job is a promotion (here, he answers to Ilitch, and Ilitch alone) — a promotion that figures to bring him his fair share of headaches, to be certain, but a promotion that has the potential for a big, big payoff, too.
“With challenges,” said Harris, “come huge opportunities.”
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