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Detroit Tigers Payroll will Continue to Roar

Pince FielderThe Detroit Tigers are only a decade from being one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball history. From 2003 to 2013, the foundation of the Tigers franchise has completely changed. From a 43 win team to the defending American League Champions, the Tiger fan base has high hopes for its Comerica Park crew.

This winter, the Tigers resigned Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million deal and Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26 million deal. It continues a trend of big contracts in Detroit. The 2012 payroll was over $133 million and 2013 looks to be even larger than that.

Players such as Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson and Rick Porcello look to receive substantial raises via arbitration.  With high profile players, such as Justin Verlander, due for new contracts in the next few years, the seemingly high payroll of owner Mike Ilitch will be tested.

This offseason was the first time in recent memory that a fair amount of Tigers fans displayed a sense of nervousness about the large amount of money being thrown around.  The obvious priority is a World Series title or bust, but that could come at jeopardizing the future of the club.

Zach Greinke became one of the richest men in baseball with a six-year, $147 million deal.  Not to mention that Mariners ace Felix Hernandez just inked a seven-year, $175 million deal.  If Greinke and Hernandez can earn an annual salary around $25 million, the sky is the limit for a former MVP such as Verlander.

Should Tigers fans see light at the end of the rainbow?  Let’s dive deeper into the future payroll obligations.

After the 2013 season concludes, a handful of role players will have contracts expire.  The following contracts expire after 2013:

Expiring Contracts after 2013 MLB Season
Joquien Benoit 53 Joaquin Benoit 35 R R 6’3″ 220 $5,500,000.00
27 Jhonny Peralta 30 R R 6’2″ 215 $5,500,000.00
4 Omar Infante 31 R R 5’11″ 197 $4,000,000.00
20 Octavio Dotel 39 R R 6’0″ 230 $3,000,000.00
39 Ramon Santiago 33 S R 5’11″ 175 $2,100,000.00

Whether or not any of these players are resigned will fall on General Manager Dave Dombrowski, but at least $21 million will come off the books from these players after 2013.  Dombrowski would be wise to use that savings to focus on locking up Justin Verlander to a long-term contract.

Verlander’s current deal will expire after the 2014 season but it would be put the Tiger faithful at ease to have him locked up before hitting free agency.  Verlander makes $20.1 million and the Tigers should make him the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history.  If anyone has earned that title, Verlander surely has.

For Tigers fans, locking up Verlander is only the start of their worries.  After the 2014 season, another important part of the Tigers rotation becomes a free agent:  Scherzer.  Max Scherzer.

Scherzer has proven to be a strikeout master and provided a heck of a one-two punch with Verlander at the top of the Tigers rotation.  Locking up Verlander is an obvious necessity but overlooking Scherzer could prove to be costly.

If Dombrowski is able to keep Verlander and Scherzer in Tigers uniforms past their current 2014 expiration, it will be the continuation of something special.  However, problems lay on the horizon past 2014.

Current A.L MVP Miguel Cabrera is set to become a free agent after 2015. Much like Verlander, Cabrera should be locked up to a long-term deal before he hits the market. Savings after 2013 can be used to lock-up Verlander before free agency and the same thinking should be used for Cabrera.

There are notable free agents coming off the books after 2014 and they are as follows:

  • ~ DH V. Martinez ($12 million)
  • ~ OF T. Hunter ($14 million)

If Dombrowski is able to lock-up Verlander and Scherzer before 2014 ends, he can use these savings of $26 million to take care of Cabrera.

The Tigers payroll gets dicey as the years go on, as young players will finish up arbitration and up for free agency. After 2015, young players such as Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister and Alex Avila are all up for free agency. It will take a work of art for Dombrowski to keep all these players in Detroit beyond 2015.

The strength of the Tigers in 2012 was their stellar pitching. Verlander, Scherzer, Fister and Sanchez are as good as any top four starting rotation in the majors.  To keep competing at the highest level, these fabulous four need to be kept intact.

Owner Ilitch has opened up his checkbook and brought the talent to the D.  It will be on Dombrowski to get creative and figure out a way to keep all these players for the long-term. Holding onto young talent such as 3B Nick Castellanos, OF Avisail Garcia and SP Drew Smyly can help to lower payroll costs and serve as complimentary pieces to a team full of superstars.

What do you think the Tigers should do with their payroll?  Who should they look to sign, who should they trade and who should they let walk?  Let us know what you think! Submit Article

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