The Detroit Tigers enter the offseason with needs.
A flashy shortstop would vastly help a push for the playoffs. Two starting pitchers would bolster a young starting rotation. And just when the Tigers thought they could ditch the short-term filler at catcher, an injury forced them back to that waterhole. They also need their top prospects — Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene — to make an impact in the big leagues.
Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch knows these things, too.
“We’re obviously not where we want to be yet,” Ilitch said in September at Comerica Park. “This is a step toward our goal, which is, we want to be a playoff team and we want to be a contender and ultimately, we want to win a championship.”
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If Ilitch is finally ready to spend to create a playoff-ready team, the Tigers will make some noise this offseason. General manager Al Avila said he won’t spend this winter “like a drunken sailor,” but it’s clear his organization refuses to sit back and watch.
The Tigers finished 77-85 in 2021, doing so with an $86 million payroll, which ranked 24th in MLB, according to Spotrac. They accomplished the franchise’s best record since 2016, and in his first season, AJ Hinch reminded the league that he is one of the smartest managers in the game. A lot went right, but the Tigers never got close to the playoffs.
As the World Series nears its conclusion, here’s a look at the Tigers’ payroll ahead of what could be a busy offseason:
2021: $86 million.
2020: $43 million.
2019: $114 million.
2018: $131 million.
2017: $188 million.
2016: $200 million.
(Data from Spotrac. Salaries prorated in 2020 due to 60-game season.)
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Miguel Cabrera: $32 million.
Jonathan Schoop: $7.5 million.
Robbie Grossman: $5 million.
Total: $44.5 million.
Miguel Cabrera plans to retire after the 2023 season, but before he does, he will cash in on $32 million for each of the next two years. Last season, his pay consumed 34.7% of the payroll. Even with this massive contract, the Tigers are in great shape to start spending again.
Jonathan Schoop is owed $7.5 million in the 2022 and 2023 seasons for the two-year contract extension he signed in August, but he has a player option for 2023. Robbie Grossman, meanwhile, is entering the final season of his two-year, $10 million deal.
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The Tigers have three players with expiring contracts: Jose Urena ($3.25 million), Wily Peralta ($1.5 million) and Derek Holland ($925,000). While the Tigers have interest in re-signing Peralta, it’s too soon to tell if they will end up reaching an agreement.
Last year, the Tigers tendered contracts to all nine arbitration-eligible players.
Players on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of MLB service time must be tendered contracts each winter. If a player isn’t granted a contract, he is considered nontendered and becomes a free agent. In the case of a tendered contract, the team and the player negotiate salaries. If they can’t agree, an arbitration hearing sorts it out.
After six years of service time, players become eligible for free agency.
Now that the Tigers have started to build a winning culture, there will be some tough decisions in the arbitration process, with 13 players in the mix. Teams have until Dec. 1 to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
Here’s what each player is expected to earn, as estimated and reported by MLB TradeRumors:
Matthew Boyd: $7.3 million.
Jeimer Candelario: $5.9 million.
Michael Fulmer: $5.1 million.
Niko Goodrum: $2.9 million.
Jose Cisnero: $1.9 million.
Joe Jimenez: $1.8 million.
Spencer Turnbull: $1.8 million.
Dustin Garneau: $1.6 million.
Harold Castro: $1.5 million.
Victor Reyes: $1.3 million.
Drew Hutchison: $900,000.
Ian Krol: $900,000.
Grayson Greiner: $800,000.
Estimated total: $33.7 million.
It’s hard to imagine Niko Goodrum, who made $2.1 million in 2021, receiving a new deal. He hit .214 in 90 games this season and wasn’t sharp defensively in a utility role. Over his five-year MLB career, the 29-year-old has a .230 batting average.
Even though Joe Jimenez posted a 5.96 ERA over 52 appearances, he seems likely to be tendered a contract. The Tigers continuously praised his underlying numbers, despite his ups and downs. If the organization still considers him a work in progress, he will be back in 2022.
Dustin Garneau is an interesting candidate, simply because there’s a need for depth at the catcher position. He played just 20 games in 2021 and 160 games across his seven-year MLB career, so the Tigers might nontender him and try to bring him back on a minor-league deal. (Drew Hutchison and Ian Krol also seem likely to end up with minor-league contracts, either with the Tigers or a different team.)
The player with the most uncertainty is Matthew Boyd.
The 30-year-old made $6.5 million in 2021 and has been with the Tigers for the past seven years, arriving from the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2015 as part of the David Price trade. He becomes a free agent after the 2022 season, but the Tigers have to make a decision in his final year of arbitration.
If Boyd were healthy, the Tigers wouldn’t have trouble with this situation, but the left-hander underwent flexor tendon surgery in September. Although he plans to pitch in 2022, there’s a good chance he isn’t healthy by Opening Day. His timetable for recovery, which is currently unclear, should give the Tigers an idea of whether or not they will pay him roughly $7.3 million.
Boyd logged a 3.89 ERA, 23 walks and 67 strikeouts over 78⅔ innings in 2021. He has a career 4.96 ERA.
Players aren’t eligible for salary arbitration until they reachthree years of MLB service time. These players often make somewhere around the league minimum, which was set at $575,000 for the 2021 season. This number shouldn’t drastically change in 2022.
For the Tigers, 24 players on the 40-man roster are currently set for pre-arbitration deals, including Akil Baddoo, Willi Castro, Derek Hill, Alex Lange, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Isaac Paredes, Jake Rogers, Tarik Skubal and Gregory Soto.
Estimated total: $13,800