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

Nov 3, 2013, 7:10 PM EDT

ALCS - Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers - Game Five Getty Images

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.

  1. chill1184 - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    Certainly will be an interesting offseason for the Motor City and seeing what they do.

  2. sincitybonobo - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    Trading Porcello seems to make sense. Smyly could fill his spot in the rotation quite nicely. This also provides an opportunity to save a few million during the following years, due to Smyly’s service clock starting 3 seasons later than Porcello’s.

    In addition to signing a premier closer, bullpen depth must be their top priority.

  3. bellerophon30 - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Mike Illitch is in his 80’s and is probably counting the months he has left, not the years. He can’t take the money with him either. I’m not saying he ‘should’ go after Cano, I’m just saying that would be his reasoning. I hope he doesn’t, Cano isn’t worth a budget busting contract for anyone but the Yankees.

  4. pastabelly - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    Why is Cano worth it to NYY and not anyone else? Makes no sense.

  5. NYTolstoy - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    Tigers bring in a lot of cash and have the ability to flex those money bags. So they shouldn’t be too worried about how this team shapes up in cost. Besides if this is the core team they plan to keep it still looks like an allstar pitching and hitting lineup

    • sportsfan18 - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:17 AM

      Well, what they do need to think about is what their team will be like in 2017, 2018 and 2019…

      They had the 5th highest payroll this past season, about $7 million MORE than the Angles with the bad contracts of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

      Put it this way… everyone knows the Phillies window has closed… They did get a championship though. They have people signed for yrs yet… The top 7 Phillies salary wise for 2014 will make $119 million. That total was more than like 20 or 21 entire team salaries this past season.

      Fielder is signed for $24 million a yr through 2020 when he’ll be 36 yrs old.

      Verlander will now be making $28 million a yr through 2019 when he’ll be 36 yrs old… there is another seasons if it vests for $22 million in 2020.

      Miggy is only signed for 2014 and 15 at $22 million per season (that’s 2 million LESS than Fielder gets) and as long as Miggy doesn’t fall off a cliff the next two yrs, he’ll have to be resigned and I’m sure he’ll get MORE than Fielder when he does. He’ll be 33 for the 2016 season, the first of whatever his new contract will be…

      What will they do with Scherzer?

      My point is that Father Time is undefeated… Doc Holliday was a great pitcher… Verlander is a great pitcher but at some point he’ll have to succomb to Father Time… not in the next couple of yrs but all of us know it will happen at some point… maybe in 2018? 2019?

      The Tigers could very easily be like what the Phillies are now but in 2017, 18 and 19…

      The Phillies ended at .500 two seasons ago and well out of it this yr and they won’t contend next yr either so that will be 3 yrs out of the running and it will probably last another yr or two afterwards…

      Hopefully the Tigers actually win a Series as I don’t see Fielder aging well, at some point Father Time will catch up to Verlander and even Miggy as he’s around 285 lbs… not now but again, Miggy won’t be the best hitter in the league anymore in 2017, 18 and 19…

  6. wingsfan97 - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    I wouldn’t Mind cano but infante will be cheaper and will do just fine.we should go after ellesbury and relevers/closers

    • sportsfan18 - Nov 5, 2013 at 6:56 AM

      If they signed Cano for say even 7 yrs… the Tigers will have a bunch of older players on the decline in 2018, 2018 and 2019…

  7. beelza - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Scherzer stays

    • beelza - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:10 PM

      Y Infante tambien

  8. weaselpuppy - Nov 3, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    Porcello for Howie Kendrick? Adds about $2M this year and even in 2015 when both become FA in 2016.

    Porcello for prospects and re-sign Infante?

    Porcello for Daniel Murphy?

    Anyone detecting a trend here?

    personally, Option 2 is best long term as it allows for adding a closer in FA…

    • weaselpuppy - Nov 3, 2013 at 10:20 PM

      edit function-

      Option 2 allows for an option for a closer or Infante. Devon Travis looks like he’ll hit based on his work at AA, but he may not be ready for that kind of jump…last time DD tried that we got Scott Sizemore fizzling and Brandon Inge at 2b for a cringeworthy week…

  9. groleo45 - Nov 4, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Shin-Soo Chu is an on-base machine…him or Coco Crisp in left field//leading off would make this lineup significantly more dangerous.

  10. stex52 - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    Taking Infante off the books just leaves you with another hole. And you can take Veras and Benoit off, but you will have to go fishing for good replacements.

    But having said that, if an owner wants to burn through some money and gamble, another big signing just makes you a higher paying franchise. It doesn’t mean you are losing money or can’t afford it. An actual WS trip pays for a lot of your expensive deals.

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