Detroit Tigers’ front office not copying anyone: How Scott Harris is looking outside the box

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers won’t mirror the Chicago Cubs, where president of baseball operations Scott Harris began his career as an executive under Theo Epstein. They won’t copy the San Francisco Giants, either, where Harris was previously employed under Farhan Zaidi. And they won’t emulate the Tampa Bay Rays, where new vice president and assistant general manager Rob Metzler has spent the past 15 seasons.

The Tigers hired Metzler, the Rays’ senior director of amateur scouting for seven seasons, as an assistant general manager Tuesday in Harris’ biggest front office move to date. The 42-year-old assumes leadership of the amateur and international scouting departments, as well as the yearly MLB draft.

“In a draft, it’s exceptionally competitive, so we need to take steps to differentiate ourselves,” Harris said Tuesday. “Rob has done that in Tampa, but I expect him to come to Detroit to partner with all the talent that we have in this front office to come up with new processes that can differentiate us.”

Early in the search, Harris targeted candidates who would use current information effectively and find ways to discover new information. Harris, always seeking an edge, wanted to hire a reliable teammate and hungry competitor with fluency in both traditional scouting and analytics.

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Cubs vice president of player personnel Matt Dorey was believed to be a candidate at one point during the process, but the pursuit seemingly fizzled, and Harris eventually struck an agreement with Metzler.

“Rob is that rare individual that can do both, and that was really important to me,” Harris said. “That’s why I thought he was a perfect fit for us right now. … We don’t want to limit our creativity or our evaluations to just pure analytics or pure scouting.

“We want to seek makeup information. We want signability information. We want medical information. We want strength and conditioning information and movement screens. We want all of that information. I know Rob really values every piece of information that goes into a decision. We’re going to organize our front office around that.”

With the Rays, Metzler most recently worked for president of baseball operations Erik Neander and general manager Peter Bendix. He joined the Rays in 2008 as a baseball operations intern, so he also worked for Andrew Friedman (Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations), Chaim Bloom (Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer) and James Click (Houston Astros general manager).

Metzler is also connected to Epstein through internships with the Red Sox in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He was an intern in Florida operations and player development in 2006 and amateur scouting and player development in 2007.

Before hiring Metzler, Harris called his trusted colleagues to collect their insight.

“Rob has done a wonderful job leading our amateur department and we wish him nothing but the best in Detroit,” Neander said in a statement to the Free Press. “His contributions are numerous and he leaves the department in good shape to continue their great work.”

Since 2016, the Rays have totaled the eighth-most WAR (16.8) in MLB from the amateur draft, behind only the St. Louis Cardinals (46.9), Cleveland Guardians (31.9), Dodgers (29.2), Toronto Blue Jays (26.9), San Diego Padres (19.4), Atlanta Braves (17.3) and New York Mets (17.2). The Tigers rank 17th with 9.4 WAR.

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Metzler was responsible for drafting Shane McClanahan, Nathaniel Lowe, Joe Ryan and Taylor Walls.

Harris praised Neander, specifically, for allowing Metzler to explore the opportunity with the Tigers. Through their conversations, Harris learned from Neander that Metzler can be trusted to provide his independent opinion on players with evidence supporting his evaluations.

He won’t blindly follow the rest of the industry.

Instead, Metzler will help the Tigers find new avenues for success.

“We’re not trying to run back what Tampa did here,” Harris said. “They have had a ton of success, and it’s been really impressive, but the goal is for Rob to come here and come up with a Tigers way, not run back the Rays way.”

Here are other takeaways from Harris

General manager

The Tigers will hire a general manager, but Harris has not started interviews and provided no timeline for his decision. Hiring an assistant general manager before a general manager isn’t outlandish, as exemplified by Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer.

Hoyer became president of baseball operations in November 2020, replacing Epstein, and waited almost an entire year before adding a general manager. That same month, the Cubs elevated Craig Breslow to assistant general manager. Then, Hoyer hired Carter Hawkins as general manager in October 2021.

It seems unlikely Harris waits that long, but it’s an example of how the process sometimes unfolds.

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Scouting director

Another addition to the front office will come soon in the form of a scouting director. A couple candidates have already emerged, and the newcomer — expected to come from outside the organization — will report directly to Metzler.

“It’s going to be Rob’s choice who fills that role for us,” Harris said.

On Oct. 7, the Tigers fired amateur scouting director Scott Pleis after 15 seasons with the organization. On Monday, the Tigers mutually parted ways with assistant general manager and longtime scout David Chadd after 18 seasons.

After evaluating the organization, Harris realized the Tigers needed to change their processes within the scouting departments. That meant establishing new leadership in an effort to maximize the talents of individuals already with the Tigers, such as crosscheckers and area scouts.

“There are a lot of really talented people,” Harris said. “There are a lot of really experienced, creative people already in this front office. I don’t want to create this perception that we are just completely cleaning house. We’re not doing that.”

International scouting

Metzler has taken control of the Tigers’ international scouting department, which will be a new challenge for him. With the Rays, he focused on amateur scouting and didn’t dip his toes into the international pool.

But the Tigers need to be more active internationally.

“I knew that he could bring a fresh perspective,” Harris said. “He has an innovative spirit when it comes to acquiring players at all levels. He has some really interesting ideas about what we can do internationally.”

To ease the transition, Metzler will rely on the experience of Tom Moore (director of international operations) and Miguel Garcia (director of Latin American operations). Moore has spent 28 seasons in baseball and 17 seasons with the Tigers, while Garcia has been in baseball for 38 seasons and 17 with the Tigers.

Moore and Garcia are locked in for another season.

“They’ve been at it a long time,” Harris said. “They have made significant strides of late in international scouting. My hope is that they can partner with Rob and share their strengths, cover each other’s blind spots and make sure that we’re getting the absolute best talent on the international front.”

Pro scouting

The pro scouting department is anchored by vice president of player personnel Scott Bream, who will return in his role for 2023. He has been with the Tigers for 22 seasons and is a close friend of manager A.J. Hinch. Assistant general manager Sam Menzin assists Bream in all aspects of pro scouting.

The pro scouts, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, received contract extensions.

“I think they do a really good job,” Harris said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Scott Bream and Sam Menzin about some of the processes they have in place in pro scouting. I think I can add to those processes.

“Some of the conversations that we’ve had about players entering into free agency and the trade front have been very constructive conversations. I think we have tremendous alignment in the types of players that we want to bring here in Detroit. I’m looking forward to working with those guys.”

Medical department

Over this past weekend, the Tigers changed direction in the leadership of their medical department. Senior director of medical services Kevin Rand, who spent 20 seasons with the organization, was informed his contract would not be renewed for 2023.

Meanwhile, head athletic trainer Doug Teter — previously responsible for the day-to-day efforts of the Tigers’ athletic training department in the majors — will transition to a new role in Lakeland, Florida. Strength and conditioning coordinator Steve Chase won’t return to the Tigers next season.

For Harris, there are two priorities for the restructured medical department.

“One is to keep our players as strong and healthy as possible through the grind of six months plus spring training,” he said. “The second priority is we need to understand how our players are moving and how we can align those movement patterns with our hitting coaches and pitching coaches.”

Therefore, it’s not surprising the Tigers recently opened a search for a new biomechanist to assist with the delivery of performance science solutions. Harris wants the medical and strength and conditioning departments to work in partnership with the pitching and hitting departments.

“Then all of a sudden we can work on movement patterns that are going to allow our guys to get a little bit more power out of their deliveries,” Harris said, “or make a little bit more contact or reshape their bat paths that allow them to perform a little bit better. I think that alignment can create a little bit more performance out of our players, and I’m looking forward to finding the leaders that can help us do that.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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