Detroit Tigers Free Agents: 5 ways to spend $50 million

Tigers general manager Al Avila answers questions during a press conference at Comerica Park.
Tigers general manager Al Avila answers questions during a press conference at Comerica Park. /
1 of 6

The Detroit Tigers may be stumbling a bit down the stretch, but there’s no doubt their 2021 season has exceeded most expectations. The club has performed well against good teams, and they have the right coaching staff in place.

The young Detroit Tigers pitchers have survived a full season and shown flashes of brilliance. There’s a new head of player development in place. Prospects Riley Greene, Ryan Kreidler, and Spencer Torkelson all appear poised to make the majors next year. There can really be only one conclusion:

It’s time for the Detroit Tigers to spend in free agency.

Both Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and General Manager Al Avila have acknowledged this reality:

But their statements have been understandably vague. Neither man can come out and directly say how much money they want to spend, or which players they’d like to target. For one, there are rules about that sort of thing, but it’s also a potential PR nightmare if they publicly target a specific player and he lands elsewhere.

So that leaves us all to guess how much the Detroit Tigers are willing to spend, and which players they might target. Fortunately, speculation is our specialty.

According to Cot’s Contracts and Spotrac the Detroit Tigers ran a payroll of about $80-85 million this year, and have salary obligations of just under $45 million next year. Arbitration raises for Michael Fulmer, Spencer Turnbull, Jeimer Candelario, and José Cisnero will likely push that number closer to $60 million.

But the Detroit Tigers have some decisions to make.

Matthew Boyd was due a raise, but with elbow surgery likely keeping him out of action for at least two months, it seems probable the Tigers will non-tender him, potentially to work out a smaller deal.

Niko Goodrum and Joe Jiménez are in line for salary increases, but Goodrum’s versatility probably isn’t enough to overcome his offensive deficiencies. And while Jiménez showed signs of improvement at times this year, he owns a 6.45 ERA in 67 innings over the past two years, and he might be too unreliable for A.J. Hinch.

Harold Castro, Dustin Garneau, Grayson Greiner, and Victor Reyes are also due small pay increases that may or may not be picked up. For our purposes, we can speculate the Detroit Tigers will enter free agency with a payroll of about $70 million.

No one expects Christopher Ilitch to run the payroll close to $200 million like his father did, but an increase of $50 million would get the Detroit Tigers to a roughly league-average payroll of about $120 million.

That seems plausible, so let’s have some fun with it.

The poorly made graphic you see above presents us with 30 potential free agent signings, broken down into five salary tiers. Some of the salaries are likely too high or too low, but we did our best to provide a general range.

We don’t expect players like Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw, and Adam Wainwright to end up on other teams, while other players — like former Tigers Nick Castellanos, Avisaíl García, and J.D. Martinez — may opt out of their contracts and join the free agent ranks.

But don’t take this too seriously. It’s just a fun exercise to think of ways the Detroit Tigers can be more competitive in 2022. Click below to see the first of our five potential scenarios.