Scott Harris didn’t answer the big question: So, is this a Detroit Tigers rebuild?
He danced around a “yes” or “no” response, instead generally focusing on an offseason ahead that will further reveal the path of his Tigers. Executing his vision isn’t an overnight task. He did not draft, trade or sign any of the players in the Tigers’ organization. He is new here.
Harris, the 35-year-old president of baseball operations, pledged to make “a lot of moves” before next year’s spring training, and many will coincide with conviction in his pursuit of building a championship team. He believes in focusing on what’s right in front of him, making the best baseball decision, then moving to the next task.
“We have to take calculated risks to narrow the gap between this organization and the other organizations we’re chasing right now,” Harris said Tuesday at Comerica Park. “When we go into the winter, we are not going to be risk-averse. We can’t be risk-averse. Taking calculated risks as part of a broader strategy of roster building and organization building, it will pay off in the end. That’s how we’re looking at it.”
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The timeline of when the world should expect the Tigers to compete is unclear. Harris won’t formally take over day-to-day MLB operations until Oct. 6, meaning assistant general manager Sam Menzin stay in charge until then. It’s a transitional period for Harris to evaluate and assess staff, players and the organization as a whole to prepare for the offseason.
This season, though, has been mostly a nightmare. The lack of momentum, as CEO and chairman Christopher Ilitch previously said, led to former general manager Al Avila’s firing in August.
On Tuesday, as the Tigers introduced Harris as their new leader, Ilitch shared his expectation: He needs Harris to restore the momentum and build a winning organization in sync from top to bottom. The goal remains to win the World Series, something the Tigers haven’t accomplished since 1984.
Leaving Baltimore for Chicago, the Tigers are 2-1 in the Harris era. The players gathered in the visitor’s clubhouse to watch Tuesday’s afternoon news conference, where Harris revealed the foundation of his vision. Center fielder Riley Greene, expected to become a franchise cornerstone, noted Harris’ “winning background” in previous stops with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. Infielder Ryan Kreidler, who debuted this September, expressed his excitement about a “new era” for the Tigers.
“Being a player when there’s new leadership that comes through is going to be an educational period for me,” Kreidler told USA TODAY Sports’ Gabe Lacques on Tuesday night, after a 3-2 win over the Orioles. “I’m going to learn more about Scott and more about what our M.O. will be going forward. We’re all really excited, and I think this is a good thing for our organization. We’re looking forward to it.”
Manager A.J. Hinch and his coaching staff watched the news conference. Hinch played a key role in the hiring process. He and Harris talked about the state of the organization and their visions for the future. One of Hinch’s takeaways: Harris will have high expectations for everyone in the organization, from the front office to the players.
The Tigers (57-92) this week won just their fourth series since the end of July.
“I think all of us should just focus on doing our jobs well and the rest will fall into place,” Hinch said Tuesday. “I know there’s going to be a lot of newness to this. I’ve been through this on different sides of an organization, and the best way to make the best first impression on a new boss is to do your job well. If you’re a coach, coach your ass off. If you’re a player, play well. If you are a scout, continue to grind and find us some talent. If you’re an analyst, find a competitive advantage on how we can do something better. That will resonate on any leader coming in.”
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Although Harris didn’t provide a timeline, the Tigers have enough pieces in place to continue building toward contention. Maybe that will happen in 2024. Expectations were high coming into this season with Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Javier Báez, Austin Meadows, Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario, Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. All underperformed and several suffered significant injuries. Tweaks to the organization’s process, in theory, will boost performance at every level. At the highest level, changes to the roster, coaching staff and training staff are unavoidable.
“I am treating this as an opportunity for us to get better this winter,” Harris said. “We’re going to put our heads down. We’re going to string together as many smart baseball decisions as possible. And we’re going to look up at the end of the winter and we’re going to have a much better feel for when the most competitive Tigers team is going to come out. That’s how I believe every baseball team should be built. I don’t believe in strict five-year plans with specific benchmarks that you have to reach year over year. There’s too much variability in the sport to define a plan as concretely as that.”
As for “smart baseball decisions,” Harris touched on offseason acquisitions, trade deadlines, amateur drafts and international signings.
“Everybody wants answers on the first day,” Hinch said. “I think we’re all going to have to grow and learn and feed off each other. The first innovation is to not be risk averse. That was something that resonated with me. … It’s a great first start in understanding we’re going to put ourselves in the best position to make good decisions — whether that’s me in game, whether that’s personnel, how we draft, how we develop, how we sign. I have a unique perspective because I’ve seen this sport from every angle, but I also know that the standards have been raised pretty high. And I love that.”