The Tigers’ search for a new front office leader has come to an end as they plan to hire Giants general manager Scott Harris as their new president of baseball operations, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link). Tigers owner Chris Ilitch fired Al Avila from his position as general manager on August 10.
Harris spent three seasons as general manager of the Giants, working in that role under Farhan Zaidi, the president of baseball operations in San Francisco. He had previously spent eight seasons with the Cubs (2012-19), moving up from director of baseball operations to assistant general manager. Before that, he worked for Major League Baseball as the Major League Operations Coordinator. Harris, who graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and received his MBA in 2015 from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, has also spent time with the Nationals (2008) and Reds (2010).
Harris was a senior lieutenant to baseball operations leaders Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer during the Cubs’ most recent fame. He was hired by San Francisco in November 2019 and played an even bigger role with the Giants as they wrote an MLB-best 107-win season in 2021. The Giants nevertheless fell to arch-rival Dodgers in the National League Division Series, and the season of 2022 was as disappointing as the 2021 season was heartwarming in San Francisco. This year’s Giants have planted a record 69-77 so far and have been out of the postseason picture for most of the summer. They will try to reload for the 2023 season, but they may be in the market for a new general manager to work under Zaidi.
Harris will now step into the limelight for an organization that has had an even more daunting 2022 season than the one he has left behind. Encouraged by a showing of 69-66 after April in 2021, the Tigers expected 2022 to be a turning point at the end of a rebuilding effort lasting nearly half a decade. Detroit had gone to great lengths to build its research and analysis department, and hiring AJ Hinch as manager ahead of the 2021 season represented a clear “win-now” mentality. On the way to 2022, top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene were about to join touted young pitchers Casey Mize, Scuba pull and Matt Manning on the big league roster, and Detroit had strong showings in 2021 from Jeimer CandelarioRule 5 pickup Akil Baddoo and veteran second baseman Jonathan Schoopamong other things.
An active off-season brought free agents Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Andrew Chafino to Detroit, where they were joined by trade takeovers Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhart. Unfortunately, nearly every one of those acquisitions (except Chafin) has so far flopped due to a combination of ill health, off-the-field issues, and simply poor performance. Their lack of production was compounded by an overwhelming rash of injuries, most notably Mize having to undergo Tommy John surgery and Skubal undergoing flexor surgery. Manning is now healthy but missed most of the year due to shoulder pain. In addition, key artists from 2021, such as Baddoo, Schoop and Candelario, have had a hard time.
It has been a catastrophic season that cost Avila his job and now puts Harris in the middle of his own conundrum. The Tigers have signed Rodriguez for an additional four years and Baez for a further five, pending future opt-out clauses that are unlikely to be exercised at this point. Meanwhile, Torkelson and Greene, who are expected to be the main cogs driving the engine of a more competitive lineup, have often looked outclassed in their debut efforts. Mize will miss a significant portion of the 2023 season, and the same could be true for Skubal. The young core that served as such a source of optimism is at least temporarily in tatters.
Enough went wrong in 2022 that the Tigers reportedly at least considered listening to offers on Skubal on the trade deadline before his injury problems flared up. A trade always seemed unlikely, but the fact that such a possibility was even worth considering is indicative of the stalled rebuilding efforts and the challenges Harris will now face.
It seems unlikely that property will give the green light for yet another arduous rebuilding, but at the same time, there is no easy solution in store. The Tigers appear to be further from the fray than they were a year ago at this point — certainly more than just one or two acquisitions away from straightening the ship. Meanwhile, last winter’s additions of Baez and Rodriguez have added remarkable weight to future payrolls, and injuries have at least temporarily thinned the promising young core.
There are some parallels between the current Tigers and the 2020-22 Giants that Harris helped overhaul. No one saw the Giants as anywhere close to the best team in baseball heading into the 2021 season, and even the Giants’ 29-31 show of 2020 exceeded some expectations after a three-season run in which the club played on a 214- 272 pace. Both play in cavernous home parks that can appeal to pitchers looking to build up their stock after tough seasons and/or injuries.
The Giants, under Harris and Zaidi, developed a reputation as one of the best teams in baseball (if not… the best team) to revive the careers of pitchers. Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafanic, Alex Wood, Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson and Jakob Junis are just some of the names that have taken to San Francisco in recent years and have significantly improved their stock. They also showed a knack for unearthing quality butchers in under-noticed moves (e.g., Mike Yastrzemskic, Donovan Solano, there reputation). Ilitch, of course, hopes Harris can bring some of that success to his new home in Detroit.
Harris jumps into a situation that is less common — if certainly not unheard of — for newly hired baseball operations leaders. Many owners eschew a GM or president and bring in a new voice and perspective to help the club through a remodel, but what should be the heavy lifting of the remodel has already been done in Detroit. It’s now up to Harris to find a way to build on the organization’s infrastructure, add some new faces to the roster, and get more out of the current underperformers (e.g. Baez, Torkelson) without the to bring things completely back to the studs.
If there’s a little silver lining, it might be that the Tigers are playing in a pretty weak American League Central division. No Dodgers-esque juggernaut looms above the leaderboard. That bodes well for a return to battle sooner than some critics would expect, but much will have to go right for the Tigers to prevent their current eight-year play-off drought from spiraling out of control into a decade.