Tigers will be hard-pressed to make big signing this winter

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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.

The Astros continue to refuse to take responsibility for the Taubman Affair

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I’m calling it the “Taubman Affair” because writing “the incident in which a top front office executive — Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman — taunted a reporter for her past opposition to the team acquiring a domestic abuser, after which the team lied, aggressively about it, accusing another reporter of fabricating a story, then admitted that they lied but made no apology for smearing the reporter” is too unwieldy for a headline.

If you need catching up on it, though, you can read this, this or this.

The latest on it all: yesterday, after walking back their angry denial that the incident ever occurred and admitting that, yes, Taubman did in fact gleefully and profanely target a reporter for taunting, the team basically went silent and let Game 1 unfold.

Today General Manager Jeff Luhnow went on a team-friendly radio station (i.e. the station that broadcasts Astros games). In the entire segment he was asked only one question about it: “Your thoughts on the SI article, Jeff.” Luhnow said that he would withhold comment, but apologized to “everybody involved,” including the fans and the players, saying “this situation should have never happened.” You can listen to the entire segment here.

He did not, however, make any specific mention of what “this situation” was. Nor did he acknowledge that, actually, it’s at least two “situations:” (1) the initial behavior of Taubman; and (2) Monday night’s team-sanctioned attack of Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, who reported it. Indeed, at no time in the team’s now multiple comments has anyone acknowledged that, as an organization, the Houston Astros’s first impulse in all of this was to attempt to bully and discredit a reporter for what has now been established as a truthful report to which the Astros have admitted. And they certainly have not voiced any specific regret or offered any form of accountability for it.

Major League Baseball is apparently investigating Taubman’s conduct. But it is not, presumably, investigating the Astros’ disingenuous smear of Apstein. A smear that the Astros likely undertook because they figured they could intimidate Apstein and, what may even be worse, because they assumed that the rest of the press — many of whom were witnesses to Taubman’s act — would go along or remain silent. If they did not think that, of course, releasing the statement they did would’ve been nonsensical. It speaks of an organization that believes it can either bully or manipulate the media into doing its bidding or covering for the teams’ transgressions. That part of this has gone wholly uncommented on by the Astros and apparently will for the foreseeable future. No matter how this shakes out for Taubman, if the Astros do not talk about how and why they decided to baselessly attack Apstein on Monday night, nothing they ever say should be trusted again.

More broadly, everything the Astros are doing now is the same as when they traded for Roberto Osuna in the first place.

In 2018 they wanted to do an unpopular thing — arbitrage a player’s domestic violence suspension into the acquisition of cheap relief help — while wanting to appear as though they were good actors who had a “zero tolerance for domestic violence” policy. To solve that problem they shoveled a lot of malarkey about how “zero tolerance” actually includes a fair amount of tolerance and hoped that everyone would go along. When not everyone did — when fans brought signs of protest to the ballpark or expressed their displeasure with Osuna’s presence on the roster — they confiscated them then hoped it’d all blow over and, eventually, via Taubman’s rant on Saturday night, lashed out at their critics.

Here, again, they want to do something unpopular: retain a boorish and insensitive executive in Taubman without him or the team suffering any consequences for it, be they actual consequences or mere P.R. fallout. Again, it’s kind of hard to pull that off, so to do so they falsely accused a reporter of lying and then circled the wagons when they caught heat for it.

I have no idea how long they plan to keep this up. Maybe they are calculating that people will forget and that forgetting is the same as forgiveness. Maybe they simply don’t care. All I do know is that folks will be teaching the Astros’ response to all of this as a counterexample in crisis management courses for years.