Tigers to take 'hard look' at catching situation

November 9th, 2022

Scott Harris is casting a wide net as he embarks on his first offseason as the Tigers’ president of baseball operations. He’s also keeping an open mind.

This is how his mind works and how he operates. It’s how he has to operate if he’s going to find creative solutions to make a better ballclub.

That’s why, while MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi’s report of the Tigers’ potential interest in free-agent catcher sounds like a big step for this club, it’s also an example of Harris looking at everything. As he told reporters Tuesday at Major League Baseball’s General Managers Meetings in Las Vegas, he’s going to be talking to everybody.

That’s why, while Harris declined comment on Contreras when asked on MLB Network, he didn’t rule anything out.

"We're going to look at every opportunity to get better this winter," Harris said on MLB Tonight. "Catcher is certainly a position we're going to take a hard look at."

The Tigers haven’t signed a free-agent, full-time catcher to a long-term contract since Ivan Rodriguez joined Detroit in 2004, a move that proved to be a big step in changing the perception and trajectory of a club that lost 119 games the previous season. Though Victor Martinez was a catcher when he signed with Detroit in 2011, he became primarily a designated hitter while backing up Alex Avila behind the plate.

Detroit has had a revolving door at catcher ever since non-tendering James McCann after the 2018 season, including free-agent signings on one-year contracts in each of the last three seasons. The Tigers would’ve hoped to have internal solutions by now, but ’ Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2022 season, and top catching prospect has battled injuries while trying to find his stroke as a hitter.

The Tigers could also find catching help on the trade market, potentially if the Blue Jays revisit talks over bullpen help while dealing from their catching depth, which includes veteran and prospect . Harris isn’t talking about specifics on the trade front, either, but he acknowledged Tuesday that they’re receiving interest on their pitching.

“We've gotten a lot of calls from teams already,” Harris said at the GM Meetings. “This is sort of like a feeling-out period of the offseason, where you're getting a lot of inbound calls and registering interest on some players. The early returns have been good. There has been quite a bit of interest in our players. As for which players we are going to trade and which players we're going to retain, we haven't made those decisions yet. But we've gotten a fair number of calls.”

Given the Tigers’ situation, Harris is keeping his lines open.

“I don't think we can rule out any way to get better,” he said. “If trading prospects for established big leaguers makes sense and helps us build a more functional team, we're going to do that. If trading big leaguers for high-performing, upper-level prospects that can make us better soon makes sense, we're gonna do that. I just wouldn't rule out any opportunity.”

A few things roster-wise seem more set than others:

• Harris would like to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder to their mix.

“We have four really talented left-handed hitters in [Austin] Meadows, [Riley] Greene, [Kerry] Carpenter and [Akil] Baddoo,” he said. “I think we could use a right-handed-hitting outfielder to sort of balance out that unit.”

• Harris told reporters he’d like to add a left-handed hitter to the infield, where , and all bat right-handed. is a switch-hitter, while hits left-handed, but both are arbitration eligible, though no decisions have been made on non-tenders.

• Báez, despite an MLB-leading 26 errors this past season, is likely sticking at shortstop.

“We intend for Javy to be our Opening Day shortstop,” Harris said. “If you look at his track record on defense over the last handful of years, I think 2022 was an anomaly. It's important for us to make sure that it's an anomaly and that it's a departure from the defense that we are used to getting from him. We've talked to Javy about it. He's putting in the work this offseason to make sure that it's an anomaly.”

has a role in Detroit’s lineup for 2023 after he and Harris talked near season’s end.

“It’s probably not going to be an everyday role,” Harris said, “but I was really energized by how committed he is to putting in the work this offseason and showing up in Lakeland, [Fla.], in excellent shape.”

• The Tigers will move to protect eligible prospects from next month’s Rule 5 Draft, but they won’t necessarily fill out the 40-man roster with them.

“We’re going to try to walk that line between protecting players who are most likely to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft while maintaining 40-man flexibility that allows us to stay nimble and seize opportunities throughout the winter,” Harris said.