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“We want to run the organization without having to go over our means. We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time.” ~ Tigers GM Al Avila, Oct. 18, 2016
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B: $180MM through 2023 (including $8MM buyout of 2024 club option)
- Justin Upton, LF: $110.625MM through 2021 (may opt out of contract after 2017 season)
- Jordan Zimmermann, RHP: $92MM through 2020
- Justin Verlander, RHP: $84MM through 2019 (plus 2020 vesting option)
- Victor Martinez, DH: $36MM through 2018
- Anibal Sanchez, RHP: $21MM through 2017 (including $5MM buyout of 2018 club option)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B: $16MM through 2017 (including $5MM buyout of 2018 club option)
- J.D. Martinez, RF: $11.75MM through 2017
- Mike Pelfrey, RHP: $8MM through 2017
- Francisco Rodriguez, RHP: $6MM through 2017
- Mark Lowe, RHP: $5.5MM through 2017
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projected salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Andrew Romine (4.049) – $1.2MM
- Jose Iglesias (4.036) – $3.2MM
- Justin Wilson (4.035) – $2.7MM
- Alex Wilson (3.038) – $1.2MM
- Bruce Rondon (3.037) – $900K
- Nick Castellanos (3.029) – $2.8MM
- Non-tender candidates: Romine
Other Financial Commitments
- Prince Fielder: $6MM paid to Rangers annually through 2020
The comment from Avila that opened this outlook was one of many headline-grabbing quotes he delivered last month, as the second-year GM’s words were the first significant indication that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch may not continue his free-spending ways. Avila was charged with spending aggressively to assemble a contender last year in his first winter atop Detroit’s baseball ops hierarchy — business as usual in the Detroit front office — and responded by shelling out more than $270MM to sign Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe and Jarrod Saltalamacchia while also swinging trades for bullpen help in the form of Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson.
The results, clearly, were not encouraging. Though the Tigers finished with 86 wins and were in contention for much of the year, each of the free agents signed to a multi-year deal flopped in year one of their contract. Zimmermann suffered injuries and faded after a brilliant start, while Upton looked lost at the plate until a strong six-week finish. Pelfrey’s contract was baffling from the get-go, and Lowe was unable to recreate the terrific 2015 campaign he authored with the Mariners and Blue Jays. The trade results were more promising, at least. K-Rod proved still capable of handling a late-inning role, and Wilson posted terrific peripherals that suggest his 4.14 ERA will improve in 2017 and beyond (10.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 54.9 percent ground-ball rate, 3.02 SIERA).
The disappointing performance of last winter’s additions, though, didn’t simply cause the Tigers to miss out on the 2016 postseason. Rather, they further clogged what was already a dreadful long-term payroll outlook and seemingly served as the tipping point to curb some of the team’s offseason aggressiveness. That’s not to suggest that a full tear-down is in the offing. Franchise cornerstones like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander — both of whom have full no-trade protection via 10-and-5 rights anyhow — seem unlikely to move. Zimmermann, too, has full no-trade rights early in the five-year deal he inked last November. Upton, meanwhile, can block trades to 20 teams and would be difficult to unload. The Tigers would probably love to deal Sanchez, Pelfrey and Lowe, but it seems unlikely that any team would line up to take on those onerous financial commitments. If they’re to be moved, the Tigers will have to chip in some cash or take on a similarly unwanted deal.
Where, then, do they turn to accomplish Avila’s stated goals of getting younger and trimming some of the payroll? Detroit wasted such little time in beginning the process that this outlook required a last-minute update before publishing. Avila’s first move of the offseason came less than 24 hours after the completion of the World Series, as he traded Cameron Maybin and his $9MM club option to the Angels in exchange for young right-hander Victor Alcantara. The move sheds Maybin’s $9MM salary next year and also prevented the Tigers from needing to pay a $1MM buyout. Beyond that, Detroit added a hard-throwing prospect to its minor league ranks. The return on Maybin wasn’t especially strong, but he’s a one-year rental coming off an injury-shortened season, and it didn’t appear to be a huge secret that the Tigers preferred to deal their center fielder.
Rodriguez’s $6MM option was probably an easier call, as it came with a $2MM buyout, thus it a net $4MM decision for the team. Detroit exercised the option shortly after trading Maybin, so Rodriguez looks to be in the fold for the time being, although there’s still a chance that the Tigers could field offers for him later this winter. The game’s emphasis on relief pitching is trending up, after all, and while no one is going to mistake K-Rod for the powerhouse reliever he was during his peak with the Angels, he’s still a very serviceable late-inning arm on a reasonable one-year deal. Moving K-Rod to a club that can’t afford to pursue one of the top free-agent closers or to a team looking to use him to set up for a top-flight closer could net another interesting young piece.