The Detroit Tigers and the Qualifying Offer

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In the midst of playoff baseball, news broke that the qualifying offer payment increased 8.5% from $14.1 million for the 2014 season to $15.3 million for the 2015 season. The Detroit Tigers did not make any qualifying offers to their departing free agents last season, most notably Jhonny Peralta. For those of you who do not know, this is how the qualifying offer works.

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The Tigers have 7 free agents coming off of their 2014 roster: Max Scherzer, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jim Johnson, and Joel Hanrahan. We can ignore the final 4 free agents listed when it comes to qualifying offers. That leaves Scherzer, Hunter, and Martinez as free agents this offseason.

The Detroit Tigers should undoubtedly offer Max Scherzer a qualifying offer. As everyone well knows, Scherzer turned down a 6-year $144 million offer prior to the 2014 season. It would take a ridiculous offer from the Tigers for Scherzer to sign without testing free agency. The Tigers are going to be extra cautious in paying another premium price for a player when Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander already make over $25 million apiece. The Tigers also have to think about extending David Price as he enters his final year of his contract. Max Scherzer is most likely going to play somewhere else in 2015. The Tigers may as well get a first round draft pick in return for Scherzer’s departure.

Torii Hunter’s case is intriguing. Hunter signed a 2-year $26 million deal with the Tigers prior to the 2013 season. In his two seasons with the Tigers, Hunter put up stat lines of .304/.334/.465 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI in 2013 and .286/.319/.446 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI in 2014. Hunter’s calling card in Minnesota was his defense, but he took major steps back in 2014 showing his age. Hunter’s defensive range was -18.4 and his total defensive UZR was -18.3. FanGraphs rated Hunter the worst defensive player in all of baseball in 2014 (side note: Nick Castellanos was rated the 3rd worst). The best scenario if the Tigers do not re-sign Hunter is to offer him a qualifying offer and get a draft pick out of it. I would sign Hunter to a 1-year deal for around $10 million. Hunter will still have some offensive value, and he is a great clubhouse leader. I would rather the Tigers go with Hunter in 2014 and wean players like Tyler Collins and Steven Moya into the lineup than just handing one of these two the reigns in 2015 in an outfield that already needs a center fielder.

Finally, there is the case of Victor Martinez. After Victor Martinez had a career year in 2014 with his .334/.409/.565 split with 32 HR and 103 RBI. Martinez also hit over .300 with two strikes in the count and was the best overall batter the Tigers had in 2014. . There are rumors going around that Martinez and the Tigers have mutual interest which will give the Tigers the first shot at Martinez so he will not reach free agency.

Call me a pessimist, but I have my doubts about Victor, especially his power. I would be hesitant in giving a player who will be 36 a contract for more than 2 or 3 years at about $15 million a year. I doubt Martinez will replicate his power numbers, but he will still be a valuable piece in the middle of the Tigers’ batting order. If the Tigers cannot sign Martinez by the qualifying offer deadline, they must offer him a qualifying offer. If Martinez wants a long term deal for big money, the Tigers should not give it to him. First, see if Martinez will accept a qualifying offer. If he doesn’t, the Tigers should not offer him more than a 3-year deal for more than $45 million.

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