5 big offseason questions for the Tigers

October 26th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Scott Harris joked Tuesday that he started thinking about the Tigers’ offseason plans about a minute after his introductory press conference as president of baseball operations ended, and continued as he made front-office changes.

While his front office is taking shape, his roster reshaping is still to come.

“I’ve been trying to work on a lot of parallel paths,” he said Tuesday. “Haven’t been sleeping a whole lot since I took this job. But there’s a lot of work to be done here. I’m really excited about the progress we’re making. I’m really excited about getting the right people in place, and I’m looking forward to talking to you guys and the fans at the GM meetings about some of our priorities for the offseason.”

Here’s a look at five questions facing the Tigers as the Hot Stove season approaches:

1. How much more change is coming to the front office? 
Some, but not an overhaul. While the Tigers have made changes to amateur scouting and their medical department, Harris indicated he likes what’s in place on the pro scouting side and will look to add to it. He also said he has had good conversations with assistant GM Sam Menzin and vice president of player personnel Scott Bream about the direction going forward.

“There are a lot of really talented people, there are a lot of really experienced, creative people already in this front office,” Harris said. “So I don’t want to create this perception that we are just completely cleaning house here. We’re not doing that. We are establishing new leadership for a handful of departments that are going to ultimately help us bring more talent here, but also bring out the best of the talented individuals that we already have in the front office, on the coaching staffs and in scouting bowls around the country.”

Harris said he still intends to hire a general manager, but that he hasn’t started interviews for the positions yet and doesn’t have a timeline.

2. How will they fix the offense? 
Part of the solution is internal: The Tigers never saw Austin Meadows in his best form before injuries and other challenges derailed his season. Reintegrating him with the club could be one of the biggest keys for manager A.J. Hinch. A full, healthy season from Riley Greene would also help, as will adjustments from Spencer Torkelson and others. New hitting coaches will likely bring a fresh approach.

Those changes are a start, but Hinch acknowledged earlier this month they’ll need more.

“You can’t roll it back -- what’s the phrase the kids use nowadays, run it back,” Hinch said. “I think we have a lot of work to do. Now, I don’t think every area that struggled this season necessarily has to be gutted and replaced. I think we need to address the strike-zone control that we’ve talked about.”

3. What to do with Javier Báez? 
His first season as a Tiger was a disappointment, but had a sneaky good finish. Báez batted .277 with a .751 OPS in his final 47 games. Maybe more surprising, he had more hits (51) than strikeouts (50) in that closing stretch. The Tigers need to keep him there next spring.

“The way I hit is just different than other guys,” Báez said at season’s end. “Wherever I think the ball’s going to land, that’s what I look for. I know I have to get the strike zone closer, but there’s still balls that I can hit [out of the zone] that can help my team.”

Defensively, though Báez led all Major Leaguers with 26 errors, the chances of him shifting from shortstop back to second base -- his position with the Mets during the stretch run of 2021 -- appear iffy. Ryan Kreidler is the only internal replacement at shortstop. That said, Hinch didn’t rule it out.

“Javy’s interested in winning,” Hinch said. “Javy loves playing shortstop. He loves being in the middle of the field. He loves being the guy taking tags from second. I think the overall numbers suggest that we should be open to change if we found a different option. I don’t think that has to be the case. … If Javy Báez is our shortstop, that’s still a good outcome.”

4. Can the Tigers stabilize their rotation without key young arms? 
The Tigers will open next season without top young starters Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, both recovering from surgery. But Detroit could get Skubal back sometime early to mid-season. Mize should be ready for the start of 2024 if not the end of next year. Matt Manning ended his season with a forearm strain, and Spencer Turnbull is expected back from Tommy John surgery for Spring Training. With all those moving parts, the Tigers have to figure out how much help they need in their rotation, and for how long.

Fortunately for Detroit, Harris became adept at short-term deals for starters during his time as Giants GM.

“I can’t wait for the questions next year if we have too much depth,” Hinch joked. “There is going to be some competition amongst the group that got experience here [this year]. This roster shouldn’t be as easy to crack moving forward.”

5. Who is behind the plate next season and beyond? 
Tucker Barnhart is a free agent and is expected to sign elsewhere, so Detroit will likely have a different Opening Day catcher for the fifth consecutive year since non-tendering James McCann following the 2018 season. By comparison, four different catchers started on Opening Day between 2014 and 2018. The Tigers could badly use stability behind the plate, but with former top catching prospect Jake Rogers returning from Tommy John surgery and top catching prospect Dillon Dingler not ready yet, catching stability seems like a dream. Eric Haase should play a big role in the solution, but the Tigers will likely look to mix in somebody, at least until they get a better idea how Rogers looks.