Arbitration Eligibles: Detroit Tigers

Matt Swartz has developed a very accurate model that MLBTR uses to project arbitration salaries, as explained in this series of posts. We've heard from many MLB teams and agencies that reference the projections in their work.  The Tigers are next in our series.  Estimated service time is in parentheses, and estimated 2014 salary follows.

Scherzer is a strong contender for the AL Cy Young award, after winning 21 games with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings.  Despite his success, Scherzer's rising price tag and impending free agency have made him a rumored offseason trade candidate.  As a self-described "pretty fanatical fan" of this website, Scherzer will surely be joining you in keeping up-to-date on his situation.  Our projected arbitration salary of $13.6MM would be topped only by Cole Hamels' $15MM in 2012 among starting pitchers, though Clayton Kershaw will speed past both of them if he goes to arbitration.  Scherzer is a 29-year-old strikeout ace represented by Scott Boras who is heading into his contract year.  An extension this offseason is extremely unlikely, unless Scherzer demands Boras to do it and/or the offer is record-shattering.  Boras hasn't had an ace pitcher to take to free agency since Barry Zito seven years ago.

If Scherzer were to sign now, the contract would have to surpass C.C. Sabathia's seven-year, $161MM deal, which is the record in new money for a pitcher until Kershaw signs.  A Scherzer contract would also probably include an opt-out after three or so years.

The Tigers' rotation also includes Porcello and Fister, who both project to jump up to the $7-8MM range.  The most recent extension for a four-plus pitcher was Matt Harrison's five-year, $55MM deal from January.  Fister has a strong case to top that, even if he's not able to get to the $80MM range of Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez prior to the 2010 season.  For all the talk about Scherzer, the Tigers also need to be thinking about big bucks for Fister if they don't want to lose him the following offseason.  Porcello's situation is different, since he was once a Super Two and has a 4.51 career ERA.  Porcello seems more likely to be traded than extended, though they'll probably need him if they move Scherzer.

Jackson's walk rate and power took a dip this year, and he lost a month to a hamstring injury.  He was still a useful hitter and a plus baserunner.  He's locked in for the Tigers' center field job again next year, but an extension seems unlikely since he's represented by Boras.  Avila, the starting catcher, hit under .200 in April, May, June, and August, but posted an OPS over .800 in July and September.  He spent some time on the DL after being hit by a pitch on his forearm, and also endured a concussion in August.  Avila's amazing 2011 season seems well in the rearview.  While the free agent market does offer a potential upgrade in Brian McCann, the Tigers probably do not view catcher as an issue that must be addressed.

Dirks manned left field for the Tigers for much of the season, and seemed exposed with the career-high 484 plate appearances.  Still, he should be retained for 2014.  Kelly, a light-hitting utility player, was retained through arbitration last offseason and was marginally better in 2013.  Though he doesn't project for a raise, his roster spot is in jeopardy.

Coke seems likely to be non-tendered after posting a 5.40 ERA in 38 1/3 innings, in a season that included a DL stint for a groin strain, a minor league demotion in August, and elbow issues.  The 31-year-old was still solid against lefties.  Alburquerque put together an uneven season, with a demotion to Triple-A in May, tons of strikeouts, and tons of walks.  As frustrating as he can be, Alburquerque is a 27-year-old who throws in the mid-90s and misses bats, so he has value at a bit above the league minimum.  The Tigers may consider trading him, but I think he'll be tendered a contract.

Assuming the Tigers tender contracts to Scherzer, Porcello, Fister, Jackson, Avila, Dirks, and Alburquerque, they're looking at an estimated $39.6MM for seven arbitration eligible players.


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