Numbers do not lie. Despite the fact that the MLB does not have a salary cap like the NFL, there is a financial penalty for teams that spend more than $189 million on their season roster in 2016. Currently, according to an article by Chris Iott, the Detroit Tigers are closing in on that number. Al Avila has to watch the pocketbook as well as the quality of player and the value each player brings to the team.
Aug 19, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (right) celebrates with teammates J.D. Martinez (28) , Ian Kinsler (3) and Miguel Cabrera (24) after hitting a grand slam against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
With the current players, latest signings, and money due to players no longer on the team, the Tigers have spent $122.9 million. There are a handful of players who are eligible for arbitration and could send the total to a projected $140.2 or $135 million depending on whether or not Neftali Feliz remains on the team.
The Tigers will most likely let go of Feliz to free agency, so Avila will have to stay under $54 million for their remaining 14 spots to avoid the luxury tax penalty. In 2015, the team cost the Ilitch family $173 million. This small amount needs to fill one or two starting rotation pitchers, another bullpen pitcher, and some bench players. Keep in mind that Daniel Norris is making minimal dollars; he made $508,700 in 2015. His salary should not be much different in 2016. Some are wondering if Michael Fulmer could fill one of the two spots which would give Avila the ability to sign Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto.
Sep 16, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (44) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Without seeing much of Fulmer, Avila most likely will sign two pitchers. With this limited dollar amount, players like Greinke and Price are most likely not going to be signed to Detroit because they are currently valued at over $25 million each. This leaves Johnny Cueto off the table, too. Pitchers like Jordan Zimmerman, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Yovani Gallardo could also be too expensive with values over $15 million. Al Avila could try to get creative and sign one pitcher with a value over $12 million and another one with a lesser value.
With Avila’s first two signings, it is obvious that the Ilitch family is not interested in putting the team through a rebuild. So, Avila has to spend wisely to get players who have experience and are hungry for wins. Mathematically, if Avila were to sign three veteran pitchers at an average of $12 million, that leaves $18 million, with a bench to fill. It also puts the spending at $2 million less than it was last year and several open positions. It was quite obvious last year that health of the player is just as important as the veteran status of the player.
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Baseball is a business, so the Ilitch family and Avila have to keep the fans coming by delivering a product fans want to see. Last year, there were often empty seats in Comerica Park. The after-market prices of seats declined as the year progressed and the team sent any pitcher who could throw a ball out to the mound. Detroit fans do love their team, but they want to spend their money on a game filled with players who are competitive in spirit and ability.