The Tigers’ search for a new front office leader has come to an end as they are set to hire Giants general manager Scott Harris as the new president of baseball operations, according to Jeff Passan. from ESPN (Twitter link). Tigers owner Chris Ilitch fired Al Avila as general manager on August 10.
Harris spent three seasons as the Giants’ general manager, working in that role under San Francisco baseball operations president Farhan Zaidi. He previously spent eight seasons with the Cubs (2012-19), rising from director of baseball operations to assistant general manager. Prior to that, he worked for Major League Baseball as the Major League Operations Coordinator. Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA in 2009 and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in 2015, has also spent time with the Nationals (2008) and Reds (2010).
A key lieutenant to baseball operations executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer during the Cubs’ last spell of prominence, Harris was hired by San Francisco in November 2019 and played an even bigger role with the Giants as a writer. an MLB-best 107-win season in 2021. The Giants nonetheless fell to the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, and the 2022 season was just as disappointing as the 2021 campaign was encouraging in San Francisco. . This year’s Giants have, to date, planted their face with a 69-77 record and have been out of the playoffs for most of the summer. They will be looking to reload for the 2023 season, but they could be looking for a new general manager to work under Zaidi.
Harris will now step into the spotlight for an organization that has had an even more disheartening 2022 season than the one he is leaving behind. The Tigers, buoyed by a 69-66 showing after April in 2021, expected 2022 to be a turning point at the end of a nearly half-decade rebuilding effort. Detroit had gone to great lengths to grow its research and analytics department, and hiring AJ Hinch as manager ahead of the 2021 season represented a clear “win-now” mindset. Around 2022, the best prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Green were about to join vaunted young pitchers Casey Mize, Scuba jumper and Matt Manning on the major league roster, and Detroit had had strong performances in 2021 from Jeimer CandelarioCollection according to rule 5 Akil Baddoo and veteran second baseman Jonathan Schoopamong others.
An active offseason brought in free agents Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Andre Chafin in Detroit, where they were joined by business acquisitions Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhart. Sadly, nearly every one of those acquisitions (with the exception of Chafin) has failed to date, due to a combination of health issues, off-field issues, and simple poor performance. Their lack of production was compounded by a crushing rash of injuries, including Mize requiring Tommy John surgery and Skubal undergoing flexor surgery. Manning is healthy now but has missed most of the year due to shoulder issues. Beyond that, key 2021 artists like Baddoo, Schoop, and Candelario have struggled tremendously.
It was a disastrous season that cost Avila his job and now puts Harris in the middle of his own conundrum. The Tigers have signed Rodriguez for another four years and Baez for five more, pending future opt-outs which, at this time, look unlikely to be exercised. Meanwhile, Torkelson and Greene, meant to be key cogs that propel the engine of a more competitive lineup, often seemed overwhelmed in their early efforts. Mize will miss a substantial portion of the 2023 season, and so could Skubal. The youthful core that has served as a source of optimism is at least temporarily in tatters.
Bad enough in 2022 that the Tigers had at least given some thought to listening to offers on Skubal at the trade deadline, before his injury troubles erupted. A trade has always seemed unlikely, but the very fact that such a possibility was worth considering is emblematic of the stalled rebuilding efforts and the challenges Harris will now face.
It seems unlikely that the property will give the green light to another arduous rebuilding effort, but at the same time there is no easy solution in store. The Tigers look further away from the fight than they were a year ago at this time – certainly more than one or two acquisitions from righting the ship. Meanwhile, the additions of Baez and Rodriguez last winter have added noticeable weight to the future wage bill, and injuries have at least temporarily thinned the promising young core.
There are parallels between the current Tigers and the 2020-22 Giants that Harris helped revise. No one considered the Giants to be anywhere near the best team in baseball heading into the 2021 season, and even the 2020 Giants’ 29-31 performance exceeded some expectations after a three-season streak that saw the club play at 214-272. rhythm. Both play cavernous home parks that could appeal to pitchers looking to replenish their supply after tough seasons and/or injuries.
The Giants, under Harris and Zaidi, have earned a reputation as one of the best teams in baseball (if not the best team) to revitalize pitching careers. Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson and Jacob Junis are just a few of the names that have made their way to San Francisco over the past few years and significantly improved their stock. They’ve also shown a knack for unearthing quality hitters in unnoticed moves (e.g. Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, The reputation). Ilitch surely hopes Harris can bring some of that success to his new home in Detroit.
Harris steps into a less common — though certainly not unheard of — situation for newly hired baseball operations executives. Many owners cut the bait on a managing director or chairman and bring in a new voice and perspective to help guide the club through a rebuild, but what was supposed to be the heavy lifting of rebuilding has already been performed in Detroit. It will now fall to Harris to find a way to further develop the organization’s infrastructure, add new faces to the roster, and make the most of current underperformers (eg Baez, Torkelson) without completely destroy things.
If there’s a small silver lining, maybe it’s that the Tigers play in a fairly weak American League Central Division. There’s no Dodgers-like juggernaut looming atop the standings. That bodes well for a return to discord sooner than some critics expect, but it will take a lot for the Tigers to avoid their current eight-year playoff drought reaching a decade.