Chris did a good job yesterday of laying out the Detroit Tigers’ payroll situation as they look toward the 2014 season. They’ve become known as a team who likes to spend money on top talent — and Mike Ilitch has some very deep pockets — but the reality of the situation is that, unless they can somehow stretch the budget by another $20 million or so (and that appears unlikely at the present juncture), they’re going to have a difficult time even maintaining the level of talent on the current roster (let alone improve).
That’s step one of the process this winter before we get big into who the Tigers should target in free agency or trades: understanding that there probably isn’t a lot of money to go around. If the Tigers hope to make a big splash this offseason, they’re probably going to have to do it via the trade (and that probably means dealing some starting pitching depth). There’s always a chance that the deep Ilitch pockets go even deeper, but I don’t think we can take that for granted.
We’re going to have a whole offseason of speculating about trades (more Rick Porcello rumors, anyone?) and signings (probably not Robinson Cano), but for now let’s take a step back and identify who exactly remains under team control, and who might be departing (the top minor league options in parenthesis).
Alex Avila remains under team control as a second year arbitration eligible player. He made just under $3 million last year and will probably make in the neighborhood of $4 million this upcoming year. Brayan Pena is a free agent, so the Tigers will have to choose between re-signing him (or someone like him) for around $1 million or paying the minimum to keep rookie Bryan Holaday on the big club as Avila’s backup.
Nothing will change here for the Tigers. Fielder will probably start 155 games at first base with Victor Martinez getting a handful of starts when Fielder spends a “day off” as the DH*. Fielder will make $24 million next season, and Martinez will make $12 million.
*Though now that I’m thinking about it, we can’t necessarily take the way Jim Leyland would have done things for granted any longer.
I could have counted Hernan Perez as the nominal returning player here, but he wasn’t really a 25-man roster player last year and he’d be well served with a full year at AAA before potentially making the jump to the big leagues full-time. I’m still not convinced he’ll ever hit well enough to be a viable major leaguer.
Omar Infante is a free agent. I’m of the opinion that the Tigers should extend him a qualifying offer (1-year and roughly $14 million) but I could also very easily see them not doing that. It’s a borderline case. Either Perez or Danny Worth would be the top in-house replacement; either could be had for the league minimum (just under $500K).
Third Base (1) – Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera will be the third baseman again barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance involving Fielder or Martinez. He’s not very good defensively because of the poor range (even when he was healthy), but it’s what they have to do to get all three bats in the lineup. Miggy will be earning $22 million in each of the next two seasons (then he hits free agency).
Shortstop (1) - Jose Iglesias, (Danny Worth)
The Tigers probably wouldn’t have traded for Iglesias had Jhonny Peralta not been suspended, but it was also a long-term move as he has five years of team control remaining. Detroit will be able to renew his contract at basically $2 million for next season.
Ramon Santiago exits as the backup utility infielder, but it’s assumed that a pre-arb Danny Worth ($500K) will be filling that role in 2014 (if he’s not starting at second base, that is).
Andy Dirks is nothing like a perfect starting outfielder (the Tigers would probably prefer him to be a bench outfielder), but he’s probably going to again be the nominal starter in left as a first-year arbitration eligible player. I’ll tab his salary at $1 million.
There’s a non-zero possibility that top prospect Nick Castellanos wins a big league spot out of spring camp (and that would probably mean the nominal starting spot), but if not, there’s a chance that the Tigers stick with the still pre-arb Matt Tuiasosopo ($500K) as a platoon outfielder.
Austin Jackson will be entering his second year of arbitration eligibility. He made $3.5 million last year, so I’ll say something like $5 million for him this next year.
Don Kelly is a non-tender candidate, but as it stands he’s entering his third year of arbitration eligibility so the Tigers could retain him for around $1 million if they want to. I’m on the fence here. On one hand he’s not very good, but on the other hand he’s not very expensive and gives the roster positional flexibility. It probably depends on whether or not they go out and get someone else capable of playing center field.
Right Field (1) – Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter enters the second and final year of his contract making $14 million. The Tigers don’t have a sure-fire right fielder behind him for 2015, but they at least won’t have worry about right field for this next season.
The rotation will stay the same if no one is moved (meaning Smyly in the bullpen again), but I’m guessing trade proposals will be seriously considered. Verlander ($20 million), Sanchez ($15.8 million) and Smyly ($500K) have their salary figures locked in with Scherzer (third year), Fister (second year), and Porcello (third year) coming up on another year of arbitration eligibility. I’m running with estimates of $11 million, $6 million, and $6.5 million respectively.
Joaquin Benoit is a free agent, and Drew Smlyly may be moved to the starting rotation, so we could be seeing a lot of turnover at the back of what was an already weak bullpen. Jose Veras’ contract contains a $3.25 million team option for next season (they’ll probably pick that up), but Luke Putkonen and Bruce Rondon would be had for the minimum. I’ll have to dig deeper and fact-check myself on this one, but I believe Al Alburquerque spent enough time in the minor leagues to stave off arbitration eligibility for another year as well.
I have Phil Coke, who made $1.85 million last year, as a strong non-tender candidate. Dave Dombrowski will certainly look to address the bullpen, but, if nothing happens, Darin Downs and Jose Ortega (and I guess Evan Reed) are the next options.
I believe my totals sum to $151.5 million which matches both (1) the 2013 payroll, basically, and (2) Chris’ estimate from yesterday.
The big gaping holes are clearly second base and the bullpen. These will probably be number one priority for the front office in the coming months. Dombrowski chose to mostly ignore the bullpen in the offseason, but, painful as it is to spend money on relief pitching, he’s probably going to have to find a way to add at least one quality arm in free agency.
The only real area of surplus, besides bat-only corner infield, is in the starting rotation. With an apparent lack of free agent dollars available, the Tigers are probably going to have to deal to patch some holes. Scherzer would be the big prize there, but the Tigers would quite clearly prefer trading Porcello if they’re going to make another strong run at a World Series.
Danny Worth would be just fine as the reserve utility infielder, I would have no real problem with Bryan Holaday taking the backup catcher spot, and I really won’t care too much if Don Kelly was retained (the bench clearly isn’t going to be the strong point of the 2014 Detroit Tigers).
Perhaps they could also look to see if there is a right-handed hitting outfielder available who could platoon with Dirks (in case Castellanos doesn’t claim the job) and also handle some occasional center field duties. The problem with these players is that they either (1) don’t exist or (2) are terrible, terrible hitters.
This is the part where we also talk about the possibility of Jhonny Peralta returning on a one-year deal (if he didn’t already rebuild enough value in the postseason) to either play some outfield or second base or whatever, but I think the Tigers are going to move on from Peralta. They wouldn’t appear to have the payroll flexibility to be experimenting like that.