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Detroit Tigers: Making sense of a quiet 2023 offseason

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The Detroit Tigers are coming off one of their more disappointing campaigns in recent memory. It wasn't because they were expected to contend for a championship, which was still a ways off, but it was because they had a solid 2021 season, leading to spending money and providing hope to a needy fanbase. However, though only expected to be around .500 on the season, the Tigers still fell woefully short, leading to the dismissal of Al Avila as the President of Baseball Operations.

The Detroit Tigers offseason is more a marathon than a sprint

Some background on the Detroit Tigers' offseason

The Tigers' last playoff appearance came in 2014, a quick dismissal by the Baltimore Orioles and an end of an era. From their first World Series appearance since 1984 in 2006, the Tigers won 790 games between 2006-2014, averaging 88 wins a season. Since then, from 2015 on they have won 501, averaging 63 wins per season. A change was definitely needed at the top and was found in Scott Harris, the man tasked with rebuilding (though we're not using that word) the mess inherited from the previous tenure of Avila.

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While some were hopeful about the 2022 Detroit Tigers, the reality crashed in very quickly. A team that won 77 games in 2021, their second most since 2014, looked primed to take the next step in 2022, with the addition of top prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. Adding to that were the additions of Javy Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez through free agency and Austin Meadows via trade. This led to the infamous quote by owner Chris Illitch, “the rebuild is 100% over.” Well, the team struggled to get to 66 wins in 2022, and the rebuild wasn't over.

The Detroit Tigers needed a change of direction

There's definitely a case to be made that the Tigers were a very unlucky team in 2022, but at the end of the day, that's an excuse. Yes, Greene was sidelined with a foot fracture in Spring Training, which arguably made them rush Torkelson, who wasn't ready for the Majors quite yet. You also had Meadows dealing with a number of freak injuries throughout the season, ultimately not completing it. But what's of bigger concern, was the inability of the roster to withstand such issues.

There was overcrowding in the outfield due to guys on the roster that had no business being there. Guys like Victor Reyes, Harold Castro, and Willi Castro were not Major League talent. Not to mention the injuries that took down the entire Opening Day pitching staff. It was a perfect storm in 2022 for a team that was not built to withstand a light sprinkle. Thus, enter Scott Harris.

Scott Harris's approach to the offseason for the Detroit Tigers

Scott Harris has been on the job for merely four months at this point. The acclimation process has begun and the trimming of the fringes is underway. However, it does seem to be moving at a snail's pace, but is that a problem?

Joe Jimenez Detroit Tigers
Joe Jimenez was traded to the Atlanta Braves on December 7, 2022

Making sense of Harris's approach for the Detroit Tigers

Since taking over Harris has not come out of the gate making massive moves, to the chagrin of many Tigers' social media followers. There were no huge free-agent signings, or even more practical ones outlined here. There have been a number of waiver claims and one pretty significant trade.

To sum up Harris's moves so far:

  • Signed SP Matthew Boyd to a one-year deal
  • Signed SP Michael Lorenzen to a one-year deal
  • Claimed C Mario Feliciano from the Brewers
  • Claimed LHP Zach Logue from the Athletics
  • Signed Kervin Castro to a Minor League Contract
  • Traded Joe Jimenez to the Braves for Justin-Henry Malloy and Jake Higginbotham

There have been other Minor League signings, but nothing that seems of significance. But there is a plan, Harris has said as much. The plan is to get young players an opportunity and significant time to essentially see what they have.

You can see a clear trend in the guys that Harris is acquiring, through trade or otherwise–specifically the offensive players. They all have a track record of commanding the strike zone, with high walk rates than most, if not all, the hitters on the team in 2022. The pitchers added to allow them to have a breadth of pitching depth, considering much of their young staff will be on the shelf for most of the year. It's a slow process, frustrating at times for sure, but in the end, there needs to be a leash given to a guy that's only been on the job for four months.

What can we expect from the Detroit Tigers in 2023?

This is the prevailing question among all fans, a seemingly unanswerable proposition. It seems on the surface to be pretty clear that the Tigers could be as bad, or worse, than they were in 2022. Is this an indictment on Scott Harris? Absolutely not, nor should it be. When something is broken, as this team was, it needs a rebuild. That word is like a dirty word you don't want your kids saying because of the purgatory that has been Detroit Tigers baseball since 2015.

There's still a lot to be determined over the next few months, too. There could still be some deals out there to be made that could improve this roster. But they also may go into 2023 with the roster as currently constructed. It'll be a young team, its median age inflated by Miguel Cabrera in his final year, while the rest have very limited playing experience.

Think of it, other than Baez, Schoop, and Meadows, every other position player will have less than three years of service time in the Major Leagues. There will be growing pains, much like we've seen with the Detroit Lions this season, but it could also lead to exciting baseball as well. For the time being, you have to give Harris an opportunity to work his process and assemble the players he wants on the roster. While it may not be called a “rebuild,” no one is fooled, but this time let's continue to hold out hope that an actual team is being built, one that can compete for a long time.

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