As the Detroit Tigers continue to rebuild, sorting through prospects, fans are wondering what kind of a splash the club will make in the free agent market during the off season to add some bona fide major league talent that pushes the team toward contender status. The bottom line is that the club should have the revenues to make some significant moves, although there won’t be much in terms of payroll savings to clear the way. To add talent, they will need to increase payroll.
The 2021- 22 off season won’t have the kind of payroll savings that the team saw the previous winter, when some $ 50 million in player salaries came off the books, led by the departure of free agent Jordan Zimmermann. Before the 2021 season began, the club had cut payroll from $107 million in 2020 (which was pro rated) to under $80 million, about a 26 percent drop. Rather, Detroit will see just over $16 million in savings due to expiring salaries, before any trades or non tenders, and most of that savings will go toward arbitration increases.
The Tigers have slashed a payroll that was over $ 212 million, enough to pay a luxury tax penalty in 2016, by more than 50 percent over a five year period. On the plus side, all major league teams will receive a share of new national TV contracts with Fox and TBS beginning in 2022, while a deal with ESPN is still being negotiated.
The Tigers will also have a new local TV deal which was at one point was expected to double their annual $50 million payment from Bally’s, formerly Fox Sports Detroit. Whether the Ilitch family takes an ownership stake in the regional sports network, or starts their own network, or just cuts a new deal to carry Tigers’ games, the bump in income should be substantial.
Here is the payroll estimate as it stands today:
Detroit Tigers 2022 Payroll Estimate
|Player||Pos||2021 Salary||2022 Est|
|Player||Pos||2021 Salary||2022 Est|
|Jimenez, Joe||RHRP||$1.500,000||2.3 M|
|Nunez, Renato||1B, 3B||Minimum|
Some payroll numbers:
- $16.2 million is due to come off the books in expiring contracts for Daniel Norris, Jose Urena, Julio Teheran, Wilson Ramos, Nomar Mazara, Jacoby Jones, Wily Peralta, Derek Holland and Erasmo Ramirez. One or two of these players may be resigned, but most will not.
- Four players will probably be eligible for arbitration for the first time: Spencer Turnbull, Grayson Greiner, Harold Castro, and Victor Reyes. Turnbull figures to get the largest raise despite missing much of this season and all of 2022, while any of the others could be non tendered without shocking anyone. The same applies to Buck Farmer, Joe Jimenez and Niko Goodrum, who are eligible for the second time.
- Jose Cisnero and Jeimer Candelario figure to return with raises in salary.
- Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer will be arbitration eligible one more time before becoming eligible for free agency. They could also be traded, driving payroll down rather than up by up to $ 10 million.
- Miguel Cabrera will get a raise, from $ 30 to $ 32 million for the last two years of his contract, followed by an $ 8 million buyout. Jonathan Schoop will receive a $3 million raise over his $4.5 million contract in 2021.
- The average major league payroll is just under $130 million, which is where the Chicago White Sox are, or about $50 million higher than the Tigers’ 2021 payroll
On the upper end of the pay scale, no players are traded or non tendered, in which case arbitration increases could total up to $15 million. On the lower end, the Tigers could experience the greatest payroll savings by trading Boyd or Fulmer, but that would add to the number of holes that need to be filled. Either way, they’ll have a similar payroll starting out to the $80 million log that they had on opening day, 2021, before making any upgrades.
If you figure about $3 million increase for Boyd, $2 million each for Candelario and Turnbull, and average $ 1 million apiece for other arb- eligible players that are retained, the payroll comes to about $84 million, or about $4 million higher than it was on opening day, 2021.
With three players on multi year contracts and ten players eligible for arbitration, that leaves 13 players, or half the 26 man roster, earning near the major league minimum salary. We can probably expect the new CBA to boost the minimum salary for the remaining players on the roster, so we’ll average them at $600,000 each.
Of course, this is prior to any free agent signings or players being traded or non tendered. The club may negotiate more favorable terms with some of their arbitration eligible players and let them go if they can’t work out a contract.
The departing free agents won’t leave major holes in the roster. Eight free agents were signed for 2021 on one year contracts, and Schoop has already been extended. Wily Peralta has contributed in the rotation and could be worth extending at the right price.
The club doesn’t have a bona fide shortstop in the organization, nor a first baseman this side of Spencer Torkelson (assuming Schoop and Candelario are manning second and third). They will also need to replace some pitching depth to take the load off their trio of young pitching studs. That’s before making investments in upgrading the roster from what they presently have.
History tells us that most contenders have four to five major league free agent players, with about the same number of home grown draftees, and the rest are acquired by trade or signed as minor league free agents or international free agents. And while there have been a few worst to first scenarios, most contenders are built by making a few key additions over a few seasons.
The Tigers already have their quota of draftees on the roster and will be adding more within a season or two. Schoop and Robbie Grossman are the only signed free agent under contract for 2022. Detroit should be a few major league free agents and a few savvy trades away from contention if they make those moves count. It’s not too soon to add key players in order to contend within the next season or two..
In their last cycle of contention, the Tigers chose to extend most of the players who contributed to their success, and most of those extensions backfired. More recently, Detroit had not extended a player into his free agent seasons in the past five years until Schoop’s new extension. The others have all been traded or left as free agents. Other teams at the bottom of the pay scale continuously develop players and unload them as they start to get expensive. What the Tigers do with players like Boyd, Fulmer and Candelario, who are all free agents after the 2022 season, could signal their direction.
Payroll will have to increase if the team is going to improve their roster in 2022, and it seems a reasonable bet that will happen. Detroit doesn’t need to boost salaries anywhere near prior levels, but whether they go big on one of the many prized shortstops- perhaps their biggest position of need, or whether they continue to scrape the barrel for bargains could determine how soon the club will return to contender status.