Ready or not, Tigers’ Scott Harris braces for first wave of tough roster decisions

Detroit News

Las Vegas — Stage one of the inevitable roster purge happens Thursday, when the Tigers will have to transfer the 10 players who ended the season on the 60-day injured list back onto the 40-man roster.

Stage two will happen before next Tuesday, when prospects who they want to protect from the Rule 5 draft next month will need to be put on the 40-man roster.

Stage three will be next Thursday, the deadline for the club to tender contracts to 11 arbitration-eligible players.

Stressful times for any big-league president or general manager, doubly so for Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris, who has officially been on the job a little over a month.

“These decisions are really tough, especially for me,” Harris said. “I don’t know these players as well as most presidents know their players. So, I am relying on a lot of people who have been around here for a while to fill in the blanks.”

Namely, manager AJ Hinch, assistant general managers Sam Menzin and Jay Sartori, director of player personnel Scott Bream and director of player development Ryan Garko.

“It’s challenging in your first year to make (contract) tender decisions on players you don’t know as well as you will next year or the year after and the year after that,” Harris said. “It feels like we’re making decisions with imperfect information right now. But we’re going to try to make the best decisions we can.”

The first couple of moves took place Tuesday. The Tigers waived outfielder Daz Cameron and first baseman Josh Lester. Cameron was promptly claimed by the Baltimore Orioles. Lester cleared and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo. At that point, the Tigers had 35 players on their 40-man roster.

Cameron, who turns 26 in January, was part of the Tigers’ return in the Justin Verlander trade to Houston in 2017. In parts of three seasons in Detroit, he hit just .201 and slugged .330 with a 28.6% strikeout rate.

Reinstating the players on the injured list won’t be as complicated as some of the decisions Harris will have to make next week. Pitchers Beau Brieske, Kyle Funkhouser, Rony Garcia, Sean Guenther, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Spencer Turnbull, plus catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Austin Meadows will have to be put back on the 40-man.

It is possible, especially for a situation like Funkhouser — who missed last season because of a shoulder injury and still hasn’t been cleared to throw — to activate a player and then release them.

The players whose spots on the 40-man are potentially vulnerable include infielders Zack Short, Brendon Davis and pitchers Bryan Garcia, Miguel Diaz and Luis Castillo.

It is possible, too, the Tigers could release arbitration-eligible players ahead of the tender deadline. Funkhouser and pitcher Rony Garcia, infielders Jeimer Candelario and Harold Castro and outfielder Victor Reyes are considered non-tender candidates.

The other arbitration-eligible players are pitchers Joe Jimenez, Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto and Tyler Alexander, along with outfielders Austin Meadows and Willi Castro.

Understand, though, with Harris at the helm, the Tigers’ 40-man roster will remain fluid. He talked at length Tuesday about his penchant for waiver claims and the value of roster flexibility.

“There’s talent on the waiver wire,” he said. “We need to dig on every single player that is on waivers to see if they present an upgrade for us. If they do, we’re not going to be shy about claiming a guy.”

Roster spots aren’t going to be long-term appointments for most players anymore.

“Players are changing all of the time,” Harris said. “It’s up to us to refresh our looks at our players and the players around the league often, because players change. I will always feel like there is more work to be done to know our players and to know players in other organizations better.”

Harris has conducted exit interviews with players. He has had exhaustive discussions with Hinch and his lieutenants. He came in with player data he collected in his years with the Giants and Cubs, and he’s immersed himself in the Tigers’ database.

But he still feels like he’s cramming for the exam.

“It’ll take some time until I feel I’m totally up to speed,” he said. “However, I don’t think I was totally up to speed in San Francisco. I think the moment you feel like you’re up to speed is the moment you are about to make a mistake.

“That’s just sort of the world view for me.”

Austin Meadows update

Harris said Tuesday that no decisions have been made regarding the 11 arbitration-eligible players, but the medical report on Meadows was encouraging. The bilateral soreness in his Achilles had subsided and he had already begun his normal off-season program.

“I think there are some things we can do to help Austin,” Harris said. “He’s working really hard. When he’s right, he rakes. It’s important for us to provide support to help him get back to the version of himself we’ve all seen.”

Meadows, who played in 36 games after the Tigers acquired him from Tampa Bay for Isaac Paredes, announced in early September that he was working through some mental health struggles. He stayed around the team the rest of the season, doing strength and conditioning work in the mornings at Comerica Park.

About Chafin

Although reliever Andrew Chafin opted out of the second and final year of his contract (and $6.5 million) and declared for free agency, the door back to Detroit isn’t necessarily closed.

Harris said he has remained in contact with Chafin’s agent and will continue to do so.

“He had a fantastic season and he earned the right to opt-out,” Harris said. “That was really impressive to me. I’ve spoken to his agent and I know he liked playing here. We’re going to keep in touch with him. He wants to come back and that’s a commentary on our organization and on the direction we are moving in.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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