Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: Scott Harris and the Detroit Tigers picked up the pieces

Scott Harris worked to change the roster for the Detroit Tigers in his first season in the Motor City. So how did he do?

Detroit Tigers president Scott Harris joins others in saying the Pledge of Allegiance
Detroit Tigers president Scott Harris joins others in saying the Pledge of Allegiance / Eric Seals / USA TODAY NETWORK

Scott Harris front office WAA impact: -2.7 games for Detroit Tigers. Rank in MLB: 19. Rank in division: 3.

There’s a protocol that incoming chief baseball execs tend to follow, and Scott Harris is adopting it to the letter in Detroit.

That protocol can be summarized this way: unload all the guys who got my predecessor fired, and try to replace them with guys who won’t get me fired.

Harris was named to succeed Al Avila as general manager in Detroit last fall after three seasons as general manager under Farhan Zaidi in San Francisco. So although he has GM experience, this is his first gig assuming all the oversight responsibility.

And he went pretty much by the GM book. Inheriting a full roster of holdovers from the Avila administration, by season’s end, Harris had released 15 of them, traded three others and waived two more.

Most of the resulting movement amounted to churn, but impact players also came and went. Of 46 major league players impacted by a Harris roster action, nine created a minimum one-game impact for the Tigers or, if they were a departure, whichever other team got them.

Overall, 20 of Harris’ 46 moves produced a positive outcome for Detroit as measured by Wins Above Average, while 24 were negative to the Tigers. The final two were neutral. The net impact of those 46 moves amounted to -2.7 games.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

Harris was aggressive in his free agent decisions, letting go of 14 players who eventually signed a contract with another team. Some, notably Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro and Willie Castro, had significant impacts, for better or (in the case of Harold Castro in Colorado) for worse.

Most (think Tucker Barnhart, Andrew Chafin, Johan Camargo) moved some acquiring team’s needle only fractionally, if at all. For the most part, MLB free agents tend to be bit players a GM hopes don’t spoil the show.

His biggest "catch" was a subtle one. In February, Harris put in a waiver claim for Arizona reliever Tyler Holton, whose entire major league experience consisted of nine innings spread across 10 games in 2022. Given a big league shot, Holton emerged as a bullpen bulwark, producing a 2.11 ERA in 85 innings across 59 appearances. That works out to a +2.2 WAA impact on the Tigers.

He signed lightly regarded starter Michael Lorenzen (+1.2) in November, got a 3.58 ERA in 18 starts, then flipped him to Philadelphia for a minor leaguer at the trade deadline.

These obviously were limited personal victories for Harris. The full picture remains slightly negative.  

Here’s the short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of the Harris leadership team in Detroit. All figures reflect Wins Above Average. Because this is his first season as GM, there is no prior-year data.

  • Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase: Since October 2022: 14 players, -2.9 net impact
  • Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons: Since October 2022: 6 players, -0.2 net impact
  • System products: Since October 2022: 6 players, -3.0 net impact
  • Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency: Since October 2022: 20 players, +3.4 net impact

The next steps for Harris are likely to be two-fold. First will involve paring more dead wood from the pile left behind by Avila. With apologies to a future Hall of Famer, some of that paring takes place naturally with the retirement of Miguel Cabrera (-1.6). Akeen Baddoo (-0.6), Garrett Hill (-1.0), and Spencer Turnbull (-0.9) could be on the list if there’s a market for any of them.

Harris is probably stuck with his least marketable asset, shortstop Javier Baez (-1.1). The contract Avila doled out to Baez runs through 2027 at a $98 million tab.

Baez is one of three putative Tiger stars from whom Harris needs turnarounds. The others are first baseman Spencer Torkelson (-1.4) and 2023 callup Joey Wentz.

Following a brief intro in 2022, Harris gave Wentz a full shot at the Tigers rotation and Wentz returned the favor with a 3-13 record and 6.90 ERA in 19 starts. That works out to -2.8 WAA, representing 104 percent of the -2.7 negativity attached to Harris’ first rating as Tigers GM.