Harris on offseason: ‘We’re going to make a lot of moves’

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Once the World Series ends, the Hot Stove season begins. And following a 96-loss season, the Tigers have work to do. Harris wouldn’t call it a rebuild during his introductory press conference in September, but he laid the anticipation for what could be a busy winter.

“I view it as an opportunity to build processes and make smart baseball decisions,” Harris said. “I don’t think labels are all that instructive; labels aren’t even a guarantee that what you intend to do will happen. We treat this as an opportunity to get better this winter.

“We’re going to make a lot of moves, and 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 to narrow the gap between this organization and the other organizations we’re chasing right now. That’s an opportunity for us to narrow that gap. We can’t be risk-averse. Taking calculated risks as part of a broader strategy of roster building and organization building will pay off in the end, and that’s how we’re looking at it.

“We’re going to put our heads down this winter, and we’re going to make as many baseball decisions as we can, and look to see where we’re at at the end of the winter.”

Here’s a question-and-answer look at the offseason facing Harris and his group:

Which players are free agents?
The only Major League free agents are catcher Tucker Barnhart and left-hander Daniel Norris. Barnhart is not expected to return, coming off of what he called the toughest year of his career. Norris could conceivably return on a low-risk deal or a non-roster invite to Spring Training for the Tigers to build pitching depth and for Norris to continue working on his repertoire.

Which players have contract options?
Lefty reliever Andrew Chafin can opt out of his deal or stick around for one more season at $6.5 million. He said near season’s end that he hadn’t made up his mind, but was encouraged by the club’s direction.

“The little bit of conversations that we’ve had so far piqued my interest, if you will,” Chafin said on Oct. 3. “I think things will be trending in the right direction here. That’s something to look forward to for this team for next season.”

Another factor is Detroit’s proximity to his farm in central Ohio, a reason Chafin signed in March. While Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are closer, none of those teams is likely to offer Chafin a better salary.

“It was definitely very convenient being as close to home as I was,” Chafin said. “That’s something that will definitely be factored into it. Being able to be that close to my family is fantastic.”

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when do the Tigers have to make that decision?
The Tigers have 11 players in line for arbitration: Tyler Alexander, Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Willi Castro, José Cisnero, Kyle Funkhouser, Rony García , Joe Jiménez, Austin Meadows, Victor Reyes and Gregory Soto.

Of that group, Detroit could face a decision with Candelario, who made $5.8 million this year coming off an AL-high 42 doubles in 2021. He struggled to a .217 average and a career-low .633 OPS this year, finishing with a negative-0.1 fWAR. It was a significant drop for somebody who looked like a contract-extension candidate last offseason. However, the third-base market isn’t deep and manager A.J. Hinch isn’t inclined to move Gold Glove finalist Jonathan Schoop off of second base to fill the hot corner.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Seven of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Tigers prospects are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they’re not added to the 40-man roster this fall: Reese Olson (No. 9), Wenceel Perez (No. 14), Austin Bergner (No. 15), Parker Meadows (No. 16), Andre Lipcius (No. 22), Elvis Alvarado (No. 26) and Jose De La Cruz (No. 27). With several players coming off the injured list, Detroit could have a roster crunch.

Not all eligible prospects will be added. Decisions involve risk management.

While De La Cruz has a ton of raw power, for instance, he has yet to play above the Single-A level, and he batted just .202 at Lakeland this year. On the flip side, unranked prospect Dane Myers had a 25-homer, 20-steal season at Double-A Erie, and jumped to Triple-A Toledo for a couple of stints in May, but he’ll turn 27 in March.

Whom might Tigers target in free agency?
Look for the Tigers to add players who fit Harris’ goal of dominating the strike zone.

Offensively, that means a search for disciplined hitters who can draw walks and put hard-hit balls in play rather than high-strikeout sluggers. All-around hitters like Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo and Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar (who has a $7.5 million player option for next year) could fit the profile.

On the pitching side, Harris’ reputation of finding bounce-back pitchers on short-term deals while working as Giants general manager could serve him well as the Tigers look to plug holes while injured young starters rehab.

Whom might they be willing to trade?
Injuries sapped the Tigers of any pitching surplus they could’ve used to try to pry a young hitter from another club. That said, there could be some mid-level pitching depth that could be leveraged as part of a package. In addition, the Tigers could have a decision to make with prospects like shortstop Gage Workman, their fourth-round pick from the 2020 MLB Draft, who plays big league-level defense and hits the ball with authority, though he’s struggled mightily with strikeouts for two years, including 206 in 128 games at Double-A Erie this year.

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