TIGERS NEW PRESIDENT GIVES HOPE & QUESTIONS

Does anyone remember the opening lyrics to Greenday’s 2004 hit, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”? For those who don’t or need a reminder:

“I walk a lonely road. The only one that I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes. But it’s home to me, and I walk alone…”

This is the theme song for the crumbling franchise that is the Detroit Tigers. Every time I think of them now I can’t help but think of this opening verse.

My oh my, have things changed from a year ago. A year ago, the Tigers, though not great, were winning games against good teams. They went on a run that left them with a 77-85 record, giving fans some hope that things could be turning around. From Akil Baddoo to Tarik Skubal, there was so much to be excited for.

Fast forward to today, the Tigers currently have 57-92 record; the fourth worst in all of baseball.

Al Avila was finally terminated from his president of baseball ops/GM position he’s held since 2015. After Dave Dombroski was relieved of his duties in ’15, thus paving the way for Avila to be promoted from assistant GM, fans were promised by owner Mike Illitch that the rebuild will be worth it in the long run. Unfortunately, the heart and soul of the franchise— Mr. Illitch— died two years later and his son took over as owner of the team. Since then he’s looked more like confused middle management, than a do- anything-to-win kind of owner.

This let Avila extend his rebuild for five more seasons. Before he was let go, we were seven years deep into the rebuild without a way out. Not only was this mind-blowing, but was ridiculous and unfair to the fans. In a game where teams can go from worst to first overnight, or promoting high school prospects to the bigs within a few years of being drafted, the traditional style in which Avila ran the organization didn’t fit the times. In the end it exposed him.

He lost on returns from trades that saw stars such as Justin Verlander and JD Martinez dealt for crap. Those prospects and the ones that Avila drafted took longer than usual to develop, and at their peak, were journeyman players at best. In other words, the needle wasn’t moved one iota under this man.

So, here the Tigers sat for a bit, pondering where they would go next. Tigers owner Chris Illitch himself said in Avila’s termination presser, that he and manager AJ Hinch will be very thorough with their new VP/GM search and will exhaust all avenues. It only took a month for this supposed thorough process, with such names being thrown out like Sam Menzin, the Tigers interim GM; Randy Flores, Cardinals assistant GM; Josh Byrnes, Dodgers senior VP of baseball ops; and Matt Slater, Cardinals assistant to the GM.

Out of nowhere, on September 22, it was reported that the Tigers poached San Francisco Giants GM Scott Harris to become their new president of baseball operations. They looked for the next Theo Epstein, and potentially found him with Epstein’s former understudy in his Chicago Cub days. Ballsy move. I liked the approach!

In the introductory press conference, we all became very familiar with who the northern Californian native is and what he intends on bringing to the club. Right away, it was remarkably evident that he is an analytics guy through-and-through. He also expressed his desire to win, his love for Detroit, and his intentions on hiring a general manager. This general manager will most likely be a sounding board, and mouthpiece in the front office. A sacrificial lamb if the new brass fails to exceed expectations is how I’m seeing it.

Maybe Harris will bring in his own guy. Maybe he’ll just promote Sam Menzin. Any move at this point wouldn’t surprise me. The new GM will come into a collaborative experience with Harris and Hinch to build the best franchise possible in hopes of bringing home that World Series title.

While every Detroit fan is cheering that there’s hope and that we should be winning anytime now, let me temper those expectations a little. Hate to do it, but let’s just look at the obvious. First off, Harris was a lacrosse player. Not a baseball player. His feel for the game comes in numbers that make sense to him. If you’re fine with that, cool. No big deal. Let’s take the next hurdle then. Harris has a lot of work to do. The developmental aspects of the franchise are broken.

He’ll have to clean house top to bottom. That means clearing out the scouts of the old regime, and firing just about every manager and coach at the lower levels, and hiring all new employees. Like a recently purchased house that was once owned by smokers, they have to get the stink out completely. A simple paint job won’t do. They have to get their hands dirty and make decisions that’s going to cost money.

Once you reset your scouting department and lower level managers and coaches, then you have to figure out what to do with Miguel Cabrera. Do you have him stay on another season to finish out his contract? If so, we’ll have to watch the former MVP provide little to no run support and waste a roster space for someone who can actually contribute. Do you let Miggy sit in the spotlight as a shell of the player he used to be? That’s not fair to him, the fans or the organization.

How does Harris intend to acquire prospects, other than the draft? Detroit doesn’t have a JD Martinez, a Verlander or Nick Castellanos, or even a flash in the pan player like Leonys Martin to trade away for significant parts. Right now, Harris has a team of misfits and a very young core of promising rookies, who are still developing. Rookies he won’t, nor shouldn’t, deal away. Former top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal won’t be around for most of next year, and Matt Manning might be tainted meat.

Harris has his work cut out for him.

Looking at his short time as GM for the Giants, you could see the direction he was going in. He drafted a specific way and signed specific free agents. This led to a hell of a run in 2021 that left the Giants just short of a World Series run. This put him on the radar for other teams looking to retool their front offices. But all-in-all, the jury is still out on if any of his drafted/acquired prospects will make an impact.

If we’re talking about right now, I have to say, I’m not totally in love with Harris’ draft classes the past few years with the Giants. Nor am I a fan of how certain prospects have developed under his command.

Patrick Bailey was supposed to be the Buster Posey replacement, because Joey Bart‘s development stalled some. Bailey is a true backstop, who flashed a big stick at North Carolina State. A one-time top-five prospect, he has struggled at the plate in the minors, and has fell to their number 12 prospect in their rankings. He’s stuck in advanced-A at 23-years-old, with no sign of progression.

Will Bednar. The right-hander out of Mississippi State who led the Bulldogs to a College World Series championship in 2021, was drafted that same year. He was chosen on the intention to be a front-end starter. Since his arrival on the farm, he’s shown flashes of what he was in college, but those moments are far and few. His ERA is close to 4.00, and his fastball has lost some life. It sits around 92-93 MPH. Which is odd, because in college he could touch 97 constantly. He’s now being considered a potential late-inning reliever in the bigs the more he pitches.

When Harris took over as GM for the Giants, Puerto Rican native Heliot Ramos was considered their top prospect. He was getting comps to Juan Soto with more running speed. Since then, he’s had a tough go at it, showing inconsistency at the plate. This inevitably dropped his prospect ranking to 18 in the Giants system.

2019 draft pick Hunter Bishop. While he wasn’t drafted under Harris’ reign, his development has been ugly to date. He’s still kicking around in low-A/advanced-A ball at 24-years-old.

I’m only naming a handful that stick out, but there are other prospects during Harris’ time with the Giants that are slow to develop or have washed out. Of course, there are those that have risen to the occasion, such as 2020 third-round southpaw Kyle Harrison or SS/3B Casey Schmitt, but they are far and few. His latest draft he selected lefties Carson Whisenhunt and Reggie Crawford.

Whisenhunt’s ceiling isn’t that high. He’s looking like a destined reliever, while Crawford is very raw and could go either way. For a club needing young starters, these are picks that don’t stand out or fill fans with confidence.

The Tigers haven’t ever really had a head guy who relied so much on analytics before. This is new territory for them. It could go either way at this point. Avila was a see it and feel it guy, where Harris is the complete opposite. Both methods have worked for other teams in the past, so there is no knock on the strategy. However, as the Tigers transcend into this new territory of the game, fans should stay optimistic, yes, but remain careful of jumping on the ‘Scott Harris is a savior’ bandwagon. In the words of Walter White they should: “Tread lightly.”

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