The Tigers have made a habit of big splashes in the offseasons. Three years ago, it was Victor Martinez. Then Prince Fielder. Last winter, the Tigers signed both Anibal Sanchez and Torii Hunter. Those deals have helped them reach the postseason each year, but the ultimate prize has remained out of reach.
As the Tigers enter this winter with a new manager in Brad Ausmus, it worth wondering just how high the payroll can go. Even with Jhonny Peralta, Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, Octavio Dotel and Jose Veras off the books, their current group weighs in at $156 million according to my arbitration guesstimates. That would already be a new franchise high and it’s without making a single addition.
Here’s the current 25:
CF Austin Jackson: $6 million (arbitration)
RF Torii Hunter: $14 million
3B Miguel Cabrera: $22 million
1B Prince Fielder: $24 million
DH Victor Martinez: $12 million
C Alex Avila: $4 million (arbitration)
LF Nick Castellanos: $500,000
2B Danny Worth: $500,000
SS Jose Iglesias: $1.7 million
C Bryan Holliday: $500,000
INF-OF Don Kelly: $1.1 million (arbitration)
INF Hernan Perez: $500,000
OF Andy Dirks: $1 million (arbitration)
Justin Verlander: $20 million
Max Scherzer: $13 million (arbitration)
Anibal Sanchez: $15 million
Doug Fister: $7.5 million (arbitration)
Rick Porcello: $7.5 million (arbitration)
Drew Smyly: $530,000
Bruce Rondon: $500,000
Al Alburquerque: $900,000 (arbitration)
Phil Coke: $2 million (arbitration)
Jose Alvarez: $500,000
Luke Putkonen: $520,000
Evan Reed: $500,000
Just look at all of those arbitration cases. The Tigers have eschewed multiyear deals with youngsters, always going year to year instead. It’s going to catch up with them this year, with the rotation of Scherzer, Fister and Porcello likely to nearly double what they earned last season.
If there are any non-tenders, they’re likely to come from the cheaper players. Coke would seem be the most likely candidate. Non-tendering Kelly and re-signing him to a minor league deal could also work, though that’ll be a minimal money saver.
An obvious choice to free up cash is to trade a starter. Scherzer would bring back a top-notch position player. Porcello wouldn’t, but the Tigers could make themselves better and cheaper at the same time by trading him for a young reliever and moving Smyly to the rotation.
As is. the Tigers need a second baseman, at least two relievers and a utilityman. But that’s not making much of a splash, unless the second baseman happens to be Robinson Cano. I think that’s a big long shot. The Tigers already have Verlander’s salary jumping to $28 million in 2015, and they have to start thinking about an extension for Cabrera, who is a free agent after 2015.
So, what are we looking at? If the Tigers want Infante back for second, that’s going to cost $6 million-$7 million per year on a two- or three-year deal. A closer from the group of Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson and Grant Balfour is going to cost around $10 million per year. Just those two signings would push the Tigers over $170 million without providing any sort of upgrade (Benoit, while not a great bet as a closer going forward, was very valuable last season).
That puts the ball in owner Mike Ilitch’s court. If he wants to add another star, he’s looking at the AL’s second highest payroll, something in the $180 million-$190 million range. It’s a full $30 million higher than he’s ever gone before. Certainly, Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury would look great at the top of the order. It’d take a whole lot of dough, but it’s the kind of addition Tigers fans are expecting after coming up just a bit short again.