With a 78-84 record, the Tigers miraculously closed out the 2023 season in second place in the AL Central and their best win-loss record in seven years. Speaking optimistically, the Tigers looked much, much better this year than any in recent memory even when they were losing.
The team had an emotional year given the departure of Miguel Cabrera, and promising seasons for many of its young talents. Despite the second-place finish coming off of a limp end to the season by the Cleveland Guardians, who seemed as if they just decided to give up in their last 10 games, Detroit fans do have a lot to look forward to next season if the team can keep the momentum and fill in some gaps this offseason. From payroll to free agents to Rule 5 draftees, here are the basics on the Tigers' outlook this offseason.
Tigers projected payroll for 2024
Estimated 2024 Payroll: $109,789,960
Estimated 2024 Luxury Tax Payroll: $92,939,999
The Tigers fall toward the lower-middle of the pack on Spotrac's 2024 payroll tracker in 19th place. Many of the Tigers' young players are eligible for arbitration for the first time this year, and with the departure of top earner Miguel Cabrera and possible departure of high earner Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit should clear up some space in their budget to give those players raises without entering into any messy situations in arbitration. MLB's luxury tax ceiling in 2024 is $237 million, which the Tigers won't be worried about exceeding.
Tigers free agents
Javier Baez (opt-out)
Eduardo Rodriguez (opt-out)
The two most interesting names on this list aren't technically free agents, but they do have player opt-outs that they could exercise this offseason. Baez and Rodriguez had the two largest Tigers contracts behind Cabrera in 2023, and both of their futures with the team have looked murky at various times throughout their tenures. It's unlikely that Baez will walk away from a $25 million paycheck, especially after he finished 2023 with the lowest OBP (.267) in MLB. Rodriguez did turn down an opportunity to go to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline August, but it's possible that he could reconsider leaving if the Dodgers, or any of the other many teams who might be interested, sweeten a deal given more time to negotiate.
Tigers players eligible for arbitration
After solid 2023 seasons for both, Tarik Skubal and Jake Rogers are projected to get the two largest raises as they go into arbitration this year. Both made around league minimum in 2023, but Skubal especially has looked stellar for Detroit, posting a 2.80 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings, and is a great candidate to take the top spot in the Tigers' rotation if Rodriguez opts out of his contract. Rogers split catching time with Eric Haase in 2023 but outperformed him significantly. A raise should definitely be expected if Rogers is promoted to an everyday role, especially after Haase's move to the Cleveland Guardians.
Tigers offseason needs
With the threats of an Eduardo Rodriguez departure and continued sitting time for the perpetually injured Matthew Boyd, the Tigers need to focus on their starting rotation. If Rodriguez leaves and Boyd stays hurt, Detroit will be down to three starters and no starting lefties. Lefties should be a concern in general; the bullpen only has one in Tyler Holton, though he did have a very promising year as a middle reliever.
In terms of clubhouse culture, the Tigers will also need to figure out who's going to lead them. With Cabrera's departure it'll be interesting to see who's going to step up as The Guy. Maybe it'll be Spencer Torkelson, who Cabrera bestowed his first base glove upon at the start of the 2022 season. It could be Riley Greene, when he finally comes back from injury. Both are very young, and might not even want to take on that mantle, but the Tigers should find someone who will.
Tigers players eligible for the Rule 5 draft of note
Four Tigers prospects ranked in MLB Pipeline's top 30 for the franchise are eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year. The Rule 5 draft opens to players who have been in the minor leagues for 4-5 seasons and aren't on an MLB 40-man roster, allowing potentially stockpiled players to move around the league and have more opportunities to play.