SAN DIEGO — The winter meetings are buzzing.
Former Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander signed a two-year, $86.67 million contract with the New York Mets, joining former Tiger Max Scherzer in the starting rotation once again.
Former Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who consistently spends his way to the World Series, signed shortstop Trea Turner to an 11-year, $300 million contract for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Outfielder Aaron Judge, the American League MVP, reportedly could come to town Tuesday, and the San Francisco Giants are in the mix to sign the slugger for more than $300 million. The Chicago Cubs are expected to spend big in hopes of returning to their winning ways.
“It seems like the starting pitching free-agent market has accelerated more quickly than other segments of the market,” Scott Harris, the Tigers’ first-year president of baseball operations, said Monday night from his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. “I don’t know if that’s predictive of the rest of the offseason. It’s really hard to forecast what is coming. Every team being in the same hotel with all of the agents usually has a way of nudging markets forward. We’ll see if that actually happens.”
Harris — who used to work for the Giants and the Cubs — isn’t prioritizing those types of players. He has no plans to be a high roller on the free-agent market this offseason and doesn’t sound enthusiastic about committing to a slew of short-term contracts or trading for big leaguers.
His latest message: Let the prospects play and trust the coaching staff.
“It’s probably a good time to step back and present a few more thoughts on how I’m looking at building the roster,” Harris said. “Coming off last year, we have a lot of holes on our roster. We’re trying to stay as open-minded as possible to get better, but one thing we won’t waver on is we’re going to invest in our young players. We’re going to earmark at-bats and innings for our young players.”
A month ago, Harris expressed his desire to acquire a left-handed hitting infielder, a right-handed hitting outfielder, pitchers and possibly a catcher. So far this offseason, the Tigers have signed left-hander Matthew Boyd to a one-year, $10 million contract. The 31-year-old, a former Tiger who tossed 13⅓ innings last season, is being asked to mentor young starting pitchers. If Boyd maximizes his upside, he could be a trade candidate at the trade deadline.
The Tigers haven’t officially announced Boyd’s addition due to logistical reasons.
Industry sources expected the Tigers to be active in the mid-tier free-agent and trade markets at the winter meetings, and while Harris is certainly keeping tabs on the available players, the preferred path forward is the development of young players in the major leagues. Manager A.J. Hinch, still searching for his first winning season in Detroit, believes his revamped coaching staff — featuring a brand-new hitting department and a third pitching coach — can help players improve.
Entering the 2023 season, Ryan Kreidler, Kerry Carpenter, Wenceel Perez, Parker Meadows, Andre Lipcius and Colt Keith fit the organization’s plan on the position player side. The Tigers want pitchers Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske, Reese Olson, Brendan White and Wilmer Flores to accumulate innings.
“One of our most valuable resources in this organization is opportunity at the major league level,” Harris said.
Will the youngsters succeed in the majors?
The Tigers won’t know until they are given prolonged opportunities.
“This doesn’t just apply to 2023,” Harris said. “In this organization, we have to get to a place where we are both competing and developing young players at the same time. We have to. If we are sincere about building a sustainable winner here, we have to create environments in the big leagues that are going to allow us to bring young players up and compete at the same time.
“You’re going to see that in 2023. You may see it on Opening Day, you may see it in the season, but you’ll definitely see that. It’s going to be a priority for us to make sure that we carve out enough space in our pitching staff and position playing group for young players to come up and get that invaluable opportunity. That’s also why we built a development-centric coaching staff.”
A wait-and-see approach didn’t translate to wins with former top prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene over the past three seasons, as former general manager Al Avila tried to build a sustainable winner by complementing the youth with established players like Javier Báez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Austin Meadows.
The young players, along with former Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo, received opportunities as regular starters, but injuries and a lack of development in the majors created setbacks. The Tigers finished 66-96 last season, fourth place in the AL Central, for their sixth consecutive losing season.
The Tigers, unless the young players blossom immediately, appear destined for another losing season in 2023.
It sounds like another rebuild.
But Harris promises that’s not the case.
“One thing that we have tried to convince the players that we are pursuing,” Harris said, “is that you can come to Detroit and be surrounded by the resources and support staff that are going to help you take the next step in your development, no matter where you are in your career.
“I think that message has been well received by the players that we are pursuing and that we continue to pursue and that we hope to come to terms with at some point. That’s been one of the main messages for us here, and it has resonated with several players.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.