In listening to a recent TigsTown podcast (it is really worth a weekly listen – yours truly occasionally gets a mention in the Q&A section), they brought up how the Tigers never go to arbitration with their players. While watching the @MLBTradeRumors twitter feed earlier this month I was shocked by how many teams actually do go through with this. I understand that baseball is a business and that every dollar can matter. However, like every business, your relationship with your employees also matters a great deal. I asked via twitter a few days ago if anyone could remember the last player the Tigers went to ARB with – the names that came up were Karim Garcia and Jason Grilli (I don’t think Grilli was even related to arb, it was just in that guaranteed contract stage prior to ARB and the two sides could not come to an agreement – so the Tigers just gave him the contract they thought he had earned).
Now, take that information in and read this article about the Miami Marlins. While many teams will delay a player’s start date or send him down for contractual reasons, the Marlins do not give raises to anyone prior to arbitration. So, if you are a rookie or a 2 time all-star, you get the same pay. This has caused some players to become disenfranchised with their employers and could make it less likely they sign an extension rather than test the free agent waters. You will hear of other teams doing similar things, like the Tampa Bay Rays with Evan Longoria, but no team seems to be extreme as the Marlins.
The Tigers way of doing things has a reverse affect though. They negotiate new contracts with their players even when they don’t have to. They don’t take their players to arbitration and point out all of their flaws before an impartial panel. The Tigers try and work through issues so that both the club and player are happy. While it has led to some unfortunate contracts like Jeremy Bonderman, it has also helped the Tigers lock up players such as Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. I know that a lot of fans and some in the media fret about the Tigers starting a player’s “clock” too early and some want the Tigers to hold players back just to earn an extra year at a low rate. That is not how they operate in most instances though. If the Tigers feel like a player can help them win, they will call that player up.
This is something to keep in when looking at the 5th Starter spot. Many of the likely candidates are rookies – including Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, and Casey Crosby. While you will hear a lot of people saying they want Turner to stay in AA/AAA so he doesn’t turn into another Bonderman or Rick Porcello, others want him to start out there for simply financial reasons. While many in the Tigers organization could debate the former line of thinking, it is doubtful the latter is even given much thought. The Tigers want to treat their players right. Not only does it help them in the present, you have to think it is beneficial in the future. If players know that the Tigers are committed to putting the best 25 men from their system out there and they treat those players fairly monetarily, prospects and free agents alike could edge the Tigers up their list. Something as simple as this could be enough to help the Tigers maintain their status atop the American League Central as long as the leadership continues to employ some player’s first philosophies.