Money and the Detroit Tigers


Consider this part one of your MCB postseason primer.

The Detroit Tigers payroll in 2013 was approximately $149 million, far and away the highest in the division and one of the larger payrolls in all of baseball. They didn’t win it all, but the Tigers were also not a big-budget bust like (for example) the Phillies or the Angels. Nonetheless it is likely that the organization will barely break even – if that – despite the 3 million tickets sold and the 5 home playoff games. Mike Ilitch doesn’t run the team to make a profit like certain other owners, but we have to assume that there are limits to how much Mike Ilitch is willing to lose on the team.

Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) reacts at the end of the first inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In guaranteed contracts the Tigers owe substantial sums to 6 guys: $24 million to Prince Fielder, $22 million to Miguel Cabrera, $20 million to Justin Verlander, $15.8 million to Anibal Sanchez, $14 million to Torii Hunter and $12 million to Victor Martinez. That adds up to $107.8 million for just those 6 guys. The Tigers also have 7 arbitration eligible guys (ignoring Phil Coke and Don Kelly) that made a combined $23.8 million last year and will be due raises – in some cases LARGE raises. If we make what I would consider a conservative estimate that these guys will, on average, be getting a 50% raise (and it might be closer to 100% on average, if Scherzer gets the Lincecum treatment) that comes to $35 million. Assume the Tigers fill the rest of the roster with league minimum guys BUT pick up Veras’ option and we get a payroll of almost exactly the $149 million from 2013.

That leaves some important holes…

1. No offer for Joaquin Benoit – the Tigers cross their fingers on the kid’s arm and hold Veras as a backup plan
2. No offer for Omar Infante – the Tigers either give 2B to Hernan Perez or fish around for payroll-neutral trades
3. No replacing Ramon Santiago – the Tigers use a utility infield option from Toledo (probably named Worth)
4. No replacing Brayan Pena – the Tigers use a backup catcher from Toledo (probably named Holaday)
5. No free agent left fielder – the Tigers go with a combo of Dirks and Castellanos

Now many holes could possibly be filled with low-cost scrap heap finds, but those tend to be long risks or to actually involve some small amount of cash. Nonetheless, if the Tigers do 1 through 5 whether or not they chase minor league free agents to compete in spring training and whatnot that is a worse team on the field than the 2013 Detroit Tigers. What we can take away from this is simply that the Tigers will have to increase payroll just to stay the course unless they find some creative and profitable trades. Any of those 5 arbitration eligible starters has value on the trade market, though probably the Tigers 6 guys with guaranteed contracts don’t. All of you who want to trade Prince, no you don’t. That would be about as profitable for the Tigers as the Yankees dumping of AJ Burnett was for them.

It’s possible that the Tigers could profit from trading Max Scherzer. It’s possible that the Tigers could profit from trading Doug Fister or Rick Porcello – though there is definitely hope that the Tigers improved infield D would mean big years for those two ground ball specialists in 2014. If the Tigers want to improve rather than treading water? It is going to require a willingness to field a payroll at least in the $160 – $170 million range. That isn’t quite luxury tax territory, but it might be more than the Detroit market can support.