Harris won't be shy in 'reshaping position player core' for Tigers

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Scott Harris knows the challenge in front of him. The Tigers new president of baseball ops isn't just tasked with getting a rebuild off the ground, once and for all. He's tasked, more immediately, with fixing one of the worst offensive teams in franchise history.

Asked about the biggest area of concern for the Tigers, Harris said Tuesday at the GM Meetings, "We need to take steps toward improving the overall health of the organization at the big league level. And that starts with reshaping our position player core."

Despite adding proven hitters in shortstop Javier Baez and outfielder Austin Meadows last offseason and promoting top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, the Tigers flailed at the plate like no other team in the bigs. Baez and Torkelson vastly underachieved and Meadows missed most of the year due to injuries. Greene was arguably Detroit's best hitter and he finished with a sub-.700 OPS.

"Our offense ranked in the bottom five in almost every statistical measure that matters," Harris said. "We can't fix that overnight, but we’re taking steps to fixing that piece by piece. We are going to look at every position and try to find ways to build a more stable and productive offense.

"I think there are a lot of talented players out there in free agency and trade that could help us do it. We’re going try to bring as many of them to Detroit as we can and start to address it through player acquisition, but also through development of some of the talented players we already have."

Harris has identified three clear positional needs for the Tigers: a right-handed hitting outfielder, a left-handed hitting infielder and a catcher. He said he still views Baez as the club's everyday shortstop and Torkelson as its long-term first baseman, but will look for potential short-term upgrades in the latter department. Torkelson, 23, was one of the worst players in the majors last season in terms of WAR.

Assessing his team's offensive woes last month, A.J. Hinch echoed Harris' emphasis on "controlling the strike zone" and said, "We just have too many guys with too big of chase rates and too big of swing-and-miss rates." Detroit had the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors last season. It also hit the fewest homers. As they add new bats this winter, Hinch said the Tigers will place a premium on plate discipline, power and speed.

Interestingly, he also referenced the Guardians, who hit the second fewest homers in the majors last season but won the AL Central with an offense that put the ball in play and applied pressure on the base paths.

"Not all of (our additions) are necessarily going to be household names with these monster contracts and superstar qualities," said Hinch. "Going into the season, who knew Cleveland was going to be able to put together a team of relative non-stars after moving on from Francisco Lindor and be a pretty competent offense? There’s multiple ways to build it.

The Tigers added nearly $250 million in salary last offseason under former GM Al Avila, but their payroll remains in the middle of the league. Upon his hire, Harris said he's received assurances from owner Chris Ilitch that he'll have the money he needs to build a winner: "It’s on me to come up with compelling opportunities and to pitch those opportunities to Chris. And I know that if I do, I’ll have his full support."

Asked about the Tigers' rumored interest in three-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, Harris said Tuesday, "I can’t really comment on Willson. Obviously I knew him (with the Cubs), but we’re going to look at every opportunity to get better this winter and catcher is certainly a position we’re going to take a hard look at."

Right now, you can safely pencil six position players onto the Tigers' 40-man roster next season: Baez, Torkelson, Meadows, Greene, Jonathan Schoop and Miguel Cabrera.

Regarding the Tigers' plans for Cabrera in the final season of his career, Harris said, "I don’t think he’s at a point in his career where he can play every day, but I think if we can keep him strong and healthy, he can really hit. As long as he’s really strong and healthy and performing, he’s going to play a lot."

Harris also offered a positive update Tuesday on pitcher Casey Mize, who's in Lakeland rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

"Casey’s doing great," said Harris. "He’s going to the complex every day and putting in all the work he can to come back and reach his potential as the No. 1 overall pick and an ace. I have really enjoyed getting to know Casey. I can’t wait to get him back on a mound and really energized by all the work he’s doing in Lakeland to make sure that happens as quickly as possible."

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