DETROIT – New Detroit Tigers President Scott Harris spoke Tuesday for the first time since joining the organization, outlining his three-part vision for the team and talking about what drew him to Detroit.
Harris, 36, takes over as president of baseball operations after the Tigers fired Al Avila at the end of seven unsuccessful rebuilding seasons.
Here are 10 takeaways from his introductory presser:
Harris plans to hire general manager
The announcement of Harris as the team’s new president notably omitted any mention of the “general manager” title, but he put that speculation to rest Tuesday.
“I intend to hire a GM,” Harris said. “I don’t have a timeline for that decision right now. This is Day 1. I need to do a lot of listening and understand the strengths and areas of potential improvement in the organization, and once I have a better feel for that, then I’ll have a better feel for what the timeline will be for that decision.”
Ilitch said Harris will have the freedom to name a general manager as he sees fit. The intent is to make sure the organization has all the resources it needs to be consistently competitive, Ilitch said.
Acquire, develop, retain young players
Harris said he has three main concepts when it comes to his vision for the Tigers organization.
The first is straightforward: “We need to acquire, develop, and retain young players.”
Harris said that’s certainly not a unique strategy. Most organizations throughout MLB have that same mindset, and he said the Tigers need to lean into it.
Culture of development
His second concept centers around developing talent both on and off the field.
“The best organizations in baseball right now are not only acquiring that talent -- they’re getting the absolute most out of that talent when they get into the organization,” Harris said. “We need to create a culture of development here.”
Harris said he believes players, coaches, evaluators, and everyone within an organization can always improve. He wants Detroit to become a destination where people believe they can come and grow.
“When I think of Detroit, I think of trying to create an environment that inspires players to want to get better and to put in all the work that they can to get better,” Harris said.
“When I think of the Tigers over the next few years, I think of free agents who may look to go to various different places across our great game. When they think of Detroit, I want them to think of an environment where they are confident they can come and get better. They can perform at a higher level, they can lengthen their careers, they know that they’re going to be surrounded by people in this organization who are going to get the absolute most out of them.”
Starting from the strike zone
The final concept centers around the importance of the strike zone.
“I believe that the strike zone disproportionately influences just about everything you see on the baseball field,” Harris said. “It dictates pitch counts. It dictates count leverage. It dictates length of inning, dictates the load you’re putting on the pitcher’s body and how many pitchers you’re going to have to use throughout a series. It also dictates the quality of contact that you’re giving up and how much contact you’re giving up, which therefore influences the quality of defense that you can built and execute behind the pitcher.”
He said it touches essentially every facet of the game, so it’s where he wants to start in evaluating and improving the team.
“We’re going to start with the strike zone,” Harris said. “We want to dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball, and we want to acquire, develop, and retain players that can give us the chance to do that.”
What Chris Ilitch liked about Harris
Tigers Owner Chris Ilitch said there was a long list of attributes that drew him to Harris.
These are some of the characteristics he mentioned:
- Harris had a clear vision and plan, and knew how he wanted to execute it, in detail.
- His approach is progressive and forward-looking on how to win in the modern game.
- He has an ability to take data and blend it with technology throughout the organization.
- He’s “very intelligent, but humble and low-key.”
- He has a tremendous drive to innovate, which isn’t always easily found in baseball.
- He has an understanding of how important it is to shape the organization’s culture.
- Most importantly: “He’s very competitive, and he’s driven to win a World Series.”
What attracted Harris to Detroit?
Harris was the general manager of the San Francisco Giants, a team that has won three World Series titles in the last decade, led baseball with 107 wins last season, and generally performs at a consistent level. So why did he want to leave that for the Tigers?
“When this opportunity came, I was immediately interested in it,” Harris said. “I was interested in what they were building here. I was interested in the players they have here. I was interested in the staff that they have here.
“When I got to Detroit, and when I started walking around with Chris and seeing all that Detroit has to offer, it just felt different for me than any other opportunity that I had in the past. The combination of an exceptionally passionate fan base, tremendous resources in the division, a head start on some of the things that they’re building under the hood that were so inspiring to me, and tremendous ownership and business-side support.”
Ilitch said the Tigers approached the process as a recruitment as much as an interview.
Message to Tigers fans
Harris was asked if he had a message for Tigers fans. Here’s what he said:
“I would say to the fans: This is an exceptional opportunity and responsibility, but this isn’t my team. This isn’t the front office’s team. This isn’t the players’ team. This is Detroit’s team, and we recognize that these players and A.J. (Hinch) and his coaches will be in living rooms more often than most family members every night when the TV is on. We know that this team means more to the fans and the city than I’ll ever know, so we’re going to be mindful of that with every decision we make. We’re going to be mindful of that when it comes to making impactful decisions that can change the trajectory of this organization, but also, we’ll be mindful of that with the smaller decisions that seem trivial and insignificant but ultimately can produce huge returns.”
In terms of a competitive timeline, Harris said he’s “treating this as an opportunity for us to get better this winter.”
In the short-term, Ilitch’s expectation is simply for the team is to regain the momentum it had before this disastrous 2022 season.
“We had great momentum when you go back a couple years, even last season, as an organization, as a major league team on the field,” Ilitch said. “We saw improvement and we saw that momentum.”
In 2021, the first year under Hinch, the Tigers played four months of winning baseball to close out the season and surprised the league with a 77-85 record. That was enough for Avila and Ilitch to spend some money in free agency, but the team fell flat.
“Ultimately, we want to see winning baseball in Detroit, we want to qualify for the playoffs, and ultimately, we want to win a world championship,” Ilitch said. “We’ve been very clear, I’ve been very clear, that that’s the objective. For now, let’s see if we can’t regain some of that momentum and fashion a better Tigers team next season and this season and build from there.”
Is this a rebuild?
Harris was asked whether or not he views this project as a rebuild. He declined to answer directly, saying there’s not much benefit to putting a label on the situation.
Here’s his full response:
“I view it as an opportunity to build processes and make smart baseball decisions, and I don’t think labels are all that instructive. Labels aren’t even a guarantee that what you intend to do will happen, so we treat this as an opportunity to get better this winter. That’s what we’re going to do, and we’re going to make a lot of moves. A lot of those moves are going to have strong conviction and confidence behind them. Some of those moves are going to be a calculated risk. We have to take calculated risks in this organization to narrow the gap between this organization and the other organizations we’re chasing right now.”
He reiterated that the Tigers won’t be risk-averse.
“It will pay off in the end,” Harris said.
Ilitch said Hinch played a “central role” in the search process, which offers a glimpse of how the manager is viewed within the organization.
After the team overachieved last year, fans worried about the possibility of Hinch leaving in the near future. But his team struggled right from the jump in 2022, and he’s lost some favor as a result.
It seems Avila shouldered the brunt of the blame within the organization if Hinch’s input was so highly regarded in this search. That means Hinch will likely be sticking around for awhile.
You can watch the full introductory press conference below.