Tigers have careful path to tread after Winter Meetings

Detroit Tigers

SAN DIEGO — Scott Harris is expecting a busy December after the Tigers president of baseball operations leaves the Winter Meetings, but he has good reason to. He’s getting married in about a week.

Presumably, Harris will turn off his cell phone for the ceremony. But at some point, he’ll turn it back on and reconnect with the Hot Stove. After the big moves shape the market, the sneakier opportunities should become more apparent for a Tigers organization seeking undervalued free agents looking to improve.

“We work every day at these jobs; you guys know that,” Harris said Tuesday. “I’m going to try to strike the right balance.”

The Tigers have done plenty of that business already, Harris said, even though it hasn’t culminated in a move yet.

“For every deal that happens, there are hundreds of other ideas that we’re working on,” Harris said. “We’re working really hard right now to make the team better. It consumes an unbelievable amount of bandwidth to ultimately make a trade. We’re really busy right now. We don’t have a trade to announce to sort of show how busy we are, but rest assured, we don’t find the trade market or free agency to be sluggish right now, even if on Twitter it doesn’t look like something’s happening.”

1. Third base: Jeimer Candelario, Detroit’s primary third baseman for much of the past five seasons, signed with the Washington Nationals this week after the Tigers non-tendered him last month. Asked if he’s confident about having a quality player at third base next season, Harris said yes, without getting into specifics. While the free-agent market is thin at third base compared to other positions, rebound candidates are out there, such as former Marlin 20-homer slugger Brian Anderson.

2. Outfield: The Tigers would like to add a right-handed hitter to balance out their abundance of young left-handed hitters in the outfield. That could simply involve a platoon player for one of the corners rather than an everyday hitter. Former Padres outfielder/first baseman Wil Myers has drawn some interest.

3. Starting pitching: Detroit hasn’t officially announced the Matthew Boyd signing yet. Harris said at the Winter Meetings that he’s open-minded to signing another starter beyond that to a Major League contract in order to build depth.

“We need a lot of innings,” Harris said. “There were a lot of injuries on the pitching staff in the last year, so we’re going to make sure that we have as much depth as possible. Whether that depth comes from internal promotions or trades or free-agent signings, I can’t say right now, but we’re going to need a lot of innings.”

4. Catcher: Ideally, the Tigers would add a left-handed hitter to share playing time with Eric Haase behind the plate and allow Jake Rogers to work back into game shape following a lost 2022 season spent rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. However, the free-agent catching market is limited in left-handed hitters to Tucker Barnhart, who is headed elsewhere following a disappointing 2022 season in Detroit, and Omar Narváez, who made $5 million this past season as a platoon catcher in Milwaukee.

The Tigers added right-hander Mason Englert in the Major League phase. The 23-year-old was the No. 29 prospect in the Rangers farm system, where he posted an 8-6 record, a 3.64 ERA and tallied 136 strikeouts over 118 2/3 innings in 24 starts between High-A Hickory and Double-A Frisco. His fastball ticked up to 92-96 miles per hour over the summer after a delivery tweak, complementing a changeup with good movement and sweeping slider.

He is listed at No. 25 in MLB Pipeline’s Tigers prospect rankings.

The Tigers also added right-hander Layne Henderson from the Astros system in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft, but lost outfielder/first baseman Dane Myers and reliever Nick Kuzia from Double-A. Neither Kuzia nor Myers was ranked, but Myers posted 25 home runs, 21 doubles and 21 stolen bases for the SeaWolves this past season. He’ll turn 27 years old in March.

While the Tigers will be busy later in the offseason, whatever they do will have to mix with their priority of leaving opportunities available for younger players and prospects as Harris tries to find out more about the talent base in Detroit going forward.

“We have a lot of holes on our roster, and we’re trying to stay as open-minded as possible to any way to get better,” Harris said. “But one thing we won’t waver on is we’re going to invest in our young players. We are going to earmark at-bats and innings for our young players. One of our most valuable resources in this organization is opportunity at the Major League level. It’s important for us to redistribute the at-bats that we created over the last month with some of our decisions, towards some of our young players that have a chance to be here for a long time.

“This doesn’t just apply to 2023,” Harris added. “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’re sincere about building a sustainable winner here, we have to create environments in the big leagues that are going to allow us to bring players up and compete at the same time. You’re going to see that in 2023. It’s going to be a priority for us.”

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