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Tigers Face Tough Decision on Armando Galarraga


The 2011 starting rotation is already 80 percent complete for the Detroit Tigers. Joining ace Justin Verlander will be right handers Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer and lefty Phil Coke, converting from the bullpen. Notably absent from that list is right hander Armando Galarraga.

Galarraga pitched well enough last year, I suppose. His 4-9 record belies the fact that he was the Tigers third best starter by almost any other standard. Galarraga had a better year than Jeremy Bonderman, who won’t be back, and was arguably better than Porcello, who will be.

The problem with Galarraga is two fold, at least as it pertains to this discussion. Galarraga is out of minor league options and he is also eligible for arbitration via Super-Two status. What that means is that Galarraga became arbitration eligible a year early thanks to being one of the top 17 percent of players who had accumulated between two and three years of service time. Those 17 percent actually qualify free agency a year early.

The problem that leads to is increased salaries. Instead of being able to renew Galarraga at something close to the major league minimum, Galarraga could fetch something in the neighborhood of $2 million for next year through an arbiter.

The deadline for offering arbitration-eligible players a contract is December 2; a date that was moved up by ten days this year. That means that teams will have to decide on their own players before the start of the winter meetings, which is typically the time when the most action takes place on the free agent and trade markets. In other words, the Tigers might have to determine their path with Galarraga before they are to have landed an alternative on the market.

That’s where the issue of his minor league options comes into play. Let’s say the Tigers go ahead and tender an offer to Galarraga, now let’s assume the Tigers fall into another starting pitcher, via trade or free agency. What you’re left with is that you either have to use Galarraga out of the bullpen, trade him for anything you can get, or expose him to the waiver wire and risk losing him for nothing.

Galarraga had a solid, but unspectacular, year. There will be some interest for him, most likely from National League clubs. He’s not going to be expensive and he has shown the ability to pitch extremely well at times. There is nothing wrong with going into next year with him penciled in as the fifth starter. But at the same time, if Dave Dombrowski is thinking of alternatives for that role, he would be better suited to deal away Galarraga before picking up another pitcher. If he waits until afterward, the market will be smaller, as other clubs will have already addressed some pitching problems, and teams will know that Dombrowski must move Galarraga or lose him for nothing during Spring Training, when he would be DFA’d.

The only way you keep Galarraga is if you feel he will absolutely be on the club for next year. If Dombrowski feels that even if another starter is brought in, that Galarraga can step into a long relief role, then you keep him. But long relievers can generally be had for far fewer dollars than Galarraga should get. And while a $2 million price tag isn’t huge, that money could be allocated elsewhere, and should be.

Galarraga isn’t the only Tiger who might not get an offer. Injured relievers Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner are also eligible, as is outfielder Ryan Raburn. Raburn is a no-brainer, he’ll be a Tiger next year, though he will get a nice raise from the $413,000 he took in last year. Zumaya is still young and still fairly cheap. He made less than $1 million last year. Given his injury history, he won’t double that in 2011. When he’s healthy, he is a difference maker. The Tigers would be fools to cut him loose before they have to.

Miner, however, wasn’t impressive before he missed all of 2010 with injuries. I expected him to be non-tendered a year ago and the Tigers wound up paying him close to $1 million to do nothing. Though Miner would probably represent an easy upgrade to the likes of Eddie Bonine as the long man, it may be best for both sides to simply part ways and start anew.

If I were a betting man, and I am, I would guess that Miner will not be tendered, Zumaya and Raburn will, and Galarraga will be tendered, but then traded at some point before the start of the season.