The Tigers, much like their home city of Detroit, can be old school almost to a fault. The team’s front office is only just fully embracing analytics. Similarly, the Motor City herself has finally accepted the auto industry has changed.
This makes the Tigers franchise much like your dad’s old ’69 Dodge Charger that he still has from high school. Selling it or parting it out should have happened long ago, and yet he just kept trying to restore, upgrade, and repurpose it to death. Now we know why Detroit’s four World Series rings are spaced out ten, 23, and 18 years apart.
Times have finally changed. There’s a new face in the front office and Detroit’s baseball culture is finally changing, even though this will be a rebuilding year (again). It’s also the end of an era with Miguel Cabrera retiring at the end of the season.
And in the case of the Yankees and their seven games with the Tigers across August and September, the Bronx Bombers had better hope another late season slump doesn’t strike.
Greatest Addition: Scott Harris, the new sleek sedan to succeed the veteran Al Avila’s old muscle car. The Tigers’ new president of baseball operations brings a winning resume perfect for maximizing this team’s young core. Harris also won a World Series ring working baseball ops for the Cubs. More recently, he was the Giants’ general manager.
In a nutshell, Harris’ task is modernizing how the Tigers do player development after the key youngsters all underachieved in 2022. Instead of being Detroit’s new big bopper, Spencer Torkelson fell on his face and hit .203 with just eight home runs. Casey Mize made just two starts before Tommy John surgery and couldn’t build off a successful rookie year.
The good news for Harris is it’s far too early to write off any of the Tigers’ young core. It also helps that he learned under two of the best in Theo Epstein and Brian Sabean. Both men won rings after modernizing their team’s front office. Scott Harris is in a position to join them soon if he successfully rebuilds the Tigers.
Greatest Loss: Gregory Soto. He had a 3.28 ERA and 30 saves in 64 appearances in 2022 and made his second consecutive AL All-Star team. In January, Harris traded him to the Phillies for infielder Nick Maton and outfielder Matt Vierling.
Now that Soto is set to close in the City of Brotherly Love, where does that leave the Tigers’ bullpen? Detroit beat writer Evan Woodbery reports righty Alex Lange is the likely closer, but such is the state of the bullpen. There’s so little experienced talent among the relievers that on a team as bad as the Tigers, losing Soto is akin to losing Mariano Rivera.
Greatest Strength: Riley Greene. The young lefty outfielder finally debuted in Detroit and hit a modest .253 with five home runs, 32 RBI and a .682 OPS. Like most of his teammates, he walked too little and struck out too much, fanning 120 times in 93 games.
But Greene is a prime bounce-back candidate in 2023, and not just because the shift is banned or the Tigers hired new hitting coaches. His upside has always been there. He hit .301 with 24 home runs and a .921 OPS in the minors in 2021 and also plays good defense in center field.
What’s more is Greene is the face of the Tigers’ real best strength: an in-house core. The former first-round pick just happens to have the highest ceiling and, best of all, doesn’t hit free agency until 2029.
Greatest Weakness: General dysfunction. The Detroit Tigers organization has so many problems that it’s hard to pick where to start. There’s no clear ace of the pitching staff, even with former Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez aboard. Al Avila’s mistakes are so many that it’s hard to trust any of Detroit’s upcoming prospects. That includes last year’s first-round pick Jace Jung.
And how about the free-swinging Javier Baez and the five years left on his $140 million contract? Needless to say, Scott Harris has his work cut out for him, and Greene and Torkelson need to break out.
What will the Tigers be in 2023? Changing the outfield dimensions won’t change the results. The Tigers were comically bad last year and still finished ahead of the last place Kansas City Royals by a single game. There’s little to suggest the two won’t battle to avoid the cellar again this year. Thus, the Mets should have an easy time when they visit Comerica Park for a quick three games in May.
The same should be said for the Yankees, who are scheduled to play seven games against the Tigers. Four in Detroit at the end of August, and then three at Yankee Stadium in mid-September. The Bronx Bombers are the better team on paper, but fans all remember last season’s August slump. The Tigers also stunningly swept the Yankees in May 2021.
Again, the New York Yankees are the better team on paper and should win the season series over Detroit. They just have to hope they don’t make like last year’s Mets and suffer costly losses against lesser teams, like the Tigers, late in the season.
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