Tigers president Harris to ‘reshape’ position-player group around Báez

Detroit News

Las Vegas – Tigers president Scott Harris, in very short order, has reshaped the amateur and international scouting departments. He’s added more muscle to the resource and development wing.

He’s in the process of adding new leadership to the medical and strength and conditioning departments. He and manager AJ Hinch are close to unveiling a new coaching staff, complete with a new hitting department.

He’s not slept much.

And for the first time Tuesday, he lifted the curtain slightly on his immediate plans for the 2023 roster.

“We need to reshape our position-player group,” Harris said, speaking during a break from the general managers meetings at Resort World. “We’re taking a hard look at every position, trying to find ways to build a more stable and productive offense.”

He wasn’t naming names or giving away free agent targets, but he talked about the need for a left-handed hitting infielder and a right-handed hitting corner outfielder. He talked about the possibility of short-term upgrades at first base and catcher.

And, of course, he talked about adding pitching, starting and bullpen.

“The goal is to create a collection of position players that fit together, that give us a bunch of options to create a dynamic lineup against starting pitchers we face over 162 games,” he said. “We will start with that and I am sure other needs will pop up through the course of the offseason.”

There aren’t many set pieces coming back off the 2022 season, but one of them is at shortstop. Harris put to rest any speculation about the Tigers investing in another expensive shortstop.

“Our plan is for Javier Báez to be our starting shortstop on Opening Day,” Harris said. “I understand the questions about his defense.”

Báez, who is in the second of a six-year $140 million contract, made a Major League-high and career-high 26 errors last season.

“I think it’s important for us to exercise plenty of discipline when it comes to these decisions,” Harris said. “When you look at his track record of defense at shortstop, one of the things you may notice is that 2022 was an anomaly. He hasn’t performed like that in the past.

“It is important for us to do all the work in the offseason and it’s important for Javy to do all the work in the offseason to make sure 2022 was an anomaly. We’ve already taken steps toward doing that. He is very motivated this offseason to get back to being one of the elite shortstops in the game and we intend to give him that opportunity.”

Harris also intimated that Jonathan Schoop will be given the opportunity to prove his career-worst offensive season was a one-off, as well.

“He won’t be the first player who struggled and then bounced back,” Harris said. “We had a really good exit interview and I think he is a leader on this team. And everyone sees how talented a defender he is. It’s all about getting him right at the plate. If we can get the 2021 version of Jonathan Schoop back, I think that will really help us.”

Third base and first base, as well as at least one corner outfield spot, seem to be initial free agent targets. Harris said there has been no decision yet on whether to tender a contract offer to arbitration-eligible third baseman Jeimer Candelario.

As for first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Harris said, “We’re still really bullish on Tork. He does a lot of things that we really value. He’s had an exceptional career in college and in the minor leagues. He struggled in the big leagues, but there are a lot of talented players who have struggled in the big leagues – especially recently in this era of pitching.

“Our evaluations of Tork are very high. We don’t view first base as a position of long-term need for us.”

But…

“But at that position, we will look for ways to get better in the short term,” Harris said.

Harris painted the same scenario at the catcher position. With Jake Rogers coming off Tommy John surgery, and with prospects Dillon Dingler and Josh Crouch possibly a year away from breaking through, the Tigers will likely look for short-term help to mix with incumbent Eric Haase.

“The catcher position across the game is really difficult to evaluate,” he said. “It seems like catcher additions are scarce, certainly in free agency year after year. Catcher is an area we can improve on. We have some good prospects coming through the system who I think are really talented and present an opportunity to fill that need internally.

“It won’t be this year, but in the future. I feel good about our catching future.”

Thus, it doesn’t sound like the Tigers are going to bid on free agent Willson Contreras who will likely command a contract work in excess of $20 million a year.

“We have to take steps toward building a new offensive identity,” Harris said. “Part of that is through player acquisitions. We are going to bring in players who give us a chance to build a more stable and productive offense. But we also have to achieve that goal through development.

“We want to build an offense that attacks pitchers as a team instead of as a group of individuals. I think we can achieve that. We’re trying to address that in our coaching staff, as well.”

What Harris went on to describe was essentially the type of relentless, control-the-strike zone, balls-in-play offense that helped Cleveland win the Central Division last season.

“Build a team-wide offensive approach that allows hitters to wear down pitchers,” he said. “That allows hitters to pass the baton by getting on base and creating leverage situations. That allows our offense to grab count leverage every time we can and to be able to put ourselves in position to score runs in bunches instead of relying on solo homers or some other less stable approaches to run scoring.”

Although a high-priced shortstop and catcher may not make sense for the Tigers this offseason, Harris didn’t rule out at least browsing in the more elite free-agent bins in other areas.

“We will entertain every opportunity,” he said. “At the end of the day we have to make sure the decisions we make make sense in the scope of our team both long-term and short-term. I wouldn’t rule out anything for us.

“You can ask me this question every offseason and I’m going to say the same thing – we’re not going to rule out anything. We will shop in all the aisles. Whether we actually purchase in all the aisles is another question.”

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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