The Detroit Tigers in 2012 opened the season with the 5th highest payroll in baseball ($132 million), while residing in the 11th largest TV market in America. I can’t imagine that they would be willing to increase that payroll for 2013. If they want to get back to, and win, the World Series, though, they’ll need to make some tough choices.
Who’s Under Contract?
- The Tigers have 9 guys with guaranteed contracts in 2013, adding up to $98.6 million. (Fielder, Cabrera, Verlander, Victor Martinez, Peralta, Benoit, Infante, Dotel, and Ramon Santiago) This means they’ll need to find a way to split $31 million between 16 players, if they want their payroll to remain the same.
- Pre-arbitration players include Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia, who could very well be Detroit’s corner outfielders in 2013. Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque and Luis Marte could be nice right-handed options in the bullpen. Drew Smyly and Darin Downs look like the best potential lefties in the bullpen. But, keep an eye on Bruce Rondon, Matt Hoffman and Luke Putkonen. Three guys – all bullpen guys – that are top prospects that look nearly ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
- Jose Valverde – he’s a free agent, and has clearly lost all confidence in his ability. He’s certainly not worth anything close to the $9 mil. they paid him in 2012, and I’m not sure he’s worth the risk at even a significant discount.
- Delmon Young – I know he was the ALCS MVP. But, where do you put him? DH – not when VMart is coming back. Outfield? – not with his speed (or lack thereof). Bench? – that’s a pricey bench-sitter ($6.75 mil. in 2012). They just don’t have a need for him in Detroit.
- Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn aren’t worth the price they might command in arbitration. No sense in offering that. If they want to re-sign for the league minimum after not receiving arbitration, that’s one thing. But, the Tigers have other young options.
- Rick Porcello – he’s a #4 or #5 starter at best, and in his second year of arbitration eligibility, he would likely command a $4-5 million salary. The Tigers have 3 prospects in their top 6 that are all starting pitchers, and all are lefties (something severely lacking in their starting rotation in 2012). Why pay Porcello $5 mil to go 10-12 with a 4.50-5.00 ERA, when you could call up a guy from AAA who will do at least that good, and you only have to pay him $500K? I say let Casey Crosby, Andy Oliver, and Adam Wilk fight it out in spring training for the final spot in the rotation.
- Max Scherzer is a no-brainer. Arbitration with him will cost around $5 million. Possibly the easiest decision of the off-season for Detroit.
- Phil Coke – is he Detroit’s new closer? He did very well in the playoffs when called to do so. At worst he’s an excellent late-inning lefty. Definitely worth the $3 mil or so he’ll get in arbitration.
- Gerald Laird – only if you can get him for the same 1-year/$1 mil you paid in 2012. For that price, it’s worth not having to find a new back-up catcher, and you get a guy that’s familiar with the pitching staff. But, beyond 2013, the Tigers have two good catching prospects that might be ready to make the jump.
- Alex Avila, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch are all eligible for arbitration for the first time. There’s no reason for Detroit to even think twice about offering it to these guys. They’ll command salaries in the $2-3 million range this year, which makes this an easy choice (well, Boesch is okay at that price, but I wouldn’t give him more than that next year).
- Anibal Sanchez is going to be a free agent. And, the Tigers should really do everything they can to keep him around. He’s the youngest pitcher at the top of the free-agent pitching market (he turns 29 in Feb.), and he isn’t going to command anywhere close to the money of a guy like Greinke, though his numbers have been comparable the last three years. Signing Sanchez to 4 years at $50-55 million makes total sense to me.
Who Do They Go After?
- If Sanchez isn’t willing to sign with them, or if he gets more than he deserves from someone like the Yankees, Red Sox, etc., then another option for Detroit might be Brandon McCarthy or Kyle Lohse. Either way, they’ll be spending close to the same amount.
- The big question mark is in the bullpen. Who will be the closer? Is it Coke? Or, do they want to go after someone on the free agent market? With the current roster I’ve suggested, their payroll for 2013 would be around $132 million – right where it was last year. I don’t think they can afford a Rafael Soriano, who will make $10 mil or more. But, Ryan Madson might be a reasonable choice at around $6 million, if they weren’t 100% sure they already had a closer for next season.
So, the Tigers lineup could be: 1. Jackson, 2. Garcia, 3. Cabrera, 4. Fielder, 5. Martinez, 6. Dirks, 7. Avila, 8. Infante, 9. Peralta. The rotation would include Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez (or a suitable FA replacement), and a rookie. The bullpen could include Benoit, Dotel, Coke, Smyly, Villareal, and either a FA closer, or possibly Downs. The Bench would include Santiago, Boesch, Laird, and a couple guys from the farm system. All for $130-140 million.