An Updated Look at the Detroit Tigers’ Payroll Situation


Oct 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter (48) and Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) score on a Martinez single 6th ing in game six of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the offseason Chris took a look at the Detroit Tigers’ payroll situation. The early conclusion was that if they really wanted to improve the club, they would need to carry an opening day payroll of $160-170 million.

"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."

The Tigers opened the 2013 season with a payroll just south of $149 million (which was a franchise record), so $160 million or more would represent a very significant hike. As it stands, Detroit probably won’t quite hit $160 million (unless there’s another move coming), and although they overhauled the team more than we could have originally imagined (namely trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinlser), their overall offseason represents treading water more so than actually improving to a significant degree.

So, with the current roster in place, what does the opening day payroll actually project to be?

Players Under Contract (11)

The Detroit Tigers currently have eleven players signed to guaranteed contracts for the 2014 season. These players are:

That’s seven position players, two starting pitchers, and two relief pitchers combining to make $119.36 million for the 2014 season (contract data from Cot’s). That’s a lot of money for less than half the roster, but these are free agent contracts which is the most expensive way to pay players.

Phil Coke‘s $1.9 million contract isn’t guaranteed, but if he makes the team those numbers will jump to 12 players making $121.26 million. (Kelly and Coke’s contracts are actually arbitration-avoiding deals, but they’ve been signed so I’ll include them with the contracted players and not the arbitration eligible players).

Arbitration Eligible (6)

Six Detroit Tigers remain under team control as arbitration eligible players (more than three years of service but less than six years). The Tigers usually come to terms with these type of players before the arbitration deadline, but it’s possible that each side submits a figure for an arbiter to decide between. For these players, I’ll run with the MLB Trade Rumors estimates. These players are:

If these estimates hold, the Tigers would be paying out a combined $32.7 million for these six arbitration eligible players. That’s not a bad deal for six core players. Adding everything up (we’ll assume Coke gets his contract going forward), and the Tigers are looking at 18 players making $153.96 million. That’s already a $4 million increase over last season, and we still have seven players to add to fill out the roster. Thankfully, these players are all league-minimum earners.

Pre-Arbitration Eligible Players (7)

Player with less than three full years of service time are pretty much only eligible to earn the MLB minimum salary, basically $500K, but there are some exceptions (international players signed to MLB deals, e.g., Jose Iglesias). The Tigers (as of now) will be counting on seven such players to fill out their 25-man roster. It’s not quite set who these players are, but we can make some pretty good guesses:

These seven pre-arb players will come at a cost of only $3.5 million. Pre-arbitration eligible players are extremely valuable due to their low cost, if they can produce any positive value whatsoever.

So, barring another trade or free agent signing, the Tigers are looking at a 25-man roster that would combine to make $157.5 million (before any incentive clauses kick in).

As I mentioned above, this roster represents treading water more than improvement, but simply retaining everyone from last season (and still letting Jhonny Peralta walk) would have cost an additional $20 million on top of what the current team costs (Fielder’s $24 MM – Kinsler’s $16MM + Fister’s $7MM + Benoit’s $7MM – Nathan’s $10MM +Infante’s $7.5MM). That type of payroll figure wouldn’t have been in the budge, so it appears that Dave Dombrowski did well (overall) to maneuver his way around some of those inflated figures he had on the books.