If this whole president of baseball operations job with the Detroit Tigers doesn’t work out, Scott Harris might have a career playing across the street in the Lions’ secondary.
Because above all else during his introductory news conference Tuesday at Comerica Park, Harris proved he knows how to play defense and backpedal out of any tough question.
Do you see this as a rebuild, he was asked?
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“I view it as an opportunity to build processes and make smart baseball decisions and I don’t think labels are all that instructive,” Harris said. “Labels aren’t even a guarantee that what you intend to do will happen.
“So we treat this, again, as an opportunity to get better this winter. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make a lot of moves.”
What type of role do you see for Miguel Cabrera next year?
“I also have to sit down with Miguel,” Harris said, “and talk with him to be better prepared to answer that question.”
The one fulsome answer Harris gave on a concrete, meaningful subject was on the future of shortstop Javier Báez, who has been a major disappointment since he signed a six-year, $140 million contract in the offseason.
Harris was in the Chicago Cubs’ front office when Baez played there and it sounds like he plans to keep Baez around and make the most out of owner Christopher Ilitch’s investment.
“I don’t know what’s happened here in Detroit,” he said, “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, that we can help bring the absolute best out of him.
“Because I assure you if we and Javy bring the best out of him, he’s a very exciting player and he’s a player that we’d love to have.”
This is all to say that Harris didn’t really say that much. It’s understandable. The guy was never going to give us a PowerPoint presentation of his blueprint for the organization his first day on the job.
And I did like his general theory of improving the team through a “culture of development.”
Harris also wants the Tigers to “dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball” because he believes the “strike zone disproportionately influences just about everything you see on a baseball field,” like pitch counts and count leverage for pitchers, and quality of contact for hitters.
If you remove everything else, all the highfalutin’ Ivy League doubletalk, Harris’ vision of the strike zone may be the key to everything for the Tigers. I have to admit I stay up way past my bedtime way too often to watch way too many Dodgers games. And if there’s one thing I marvel at more than anything else about them, it’s their plate discipline. That’s why they lead the majors with the lowest chase rate.
Harris’ boss with the San Francisco Giants was Farhan Zaidi, who came from the Dodgers’ front office. The Giants also have one of the majors’ best chase rates. And both clubs have a strong history of excellent pitching.
If Harris can use what he has learned working for Zaidi and apply that focus in player acquisition and development for the Tigers, they’ll have a strong chance at being consistently competitive.
Of course, if Harris demanded a strict adherence to plate discipline from the Tigers right now, Báez might be batting somewhere near the bottom of the order for the Toledo Mud Hens.
Something important we did learn Tuesday about Harris, and it might be the most important thing, is that he told Ilitch what he wanted to hear — that he’s aligned in his pursuit for the brass ring. Ilitch knows fans want to hear him make two promises: winning a World Series and spending big on free agents.
“He’s very competitive and driven to win a World Series,” Ilitch said. “As simple as that may seem, not everybody is as aggressive in their thinking to be the best and to win a World Series championship. And I found that Scott and I were very aligned in that respect.”
Communication is another strength Harris has reputation for. He didn’t have a previous relationship with manager A.J. Hinch but he said they’ve already been kicking around ideas.
“One thing I was struck by was how easily we would fall into some healthy debate about in-game strategy,” he said, “about how to deploy players the best to allow them to (succeed), how to develop players at this level. It’s a very comfortable conversation.”
Harris couldn’t be pinned down on much. He wouldn’t say whether he wants fans to be patient or whether he sees enough on the roster to make a move up the division sooner rather than later.
But he did promise he wouldn’t sit still this winter. The Giants made 20 trades with 10 different teams since March and Harris hinted at taking that kind of aggressive tack when he said the Tigers must take “calculated risks” to close the gap with teams ahead of them.
“I know that when we go into this winter,” he said, “we’re not going to be risk averse.”
If Harris can manage that, then maybe we can forgive his aversion to giving straightforward answers during his introduction.