Five Tigers are eligible for arbitration this off season: Starting pitchers Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, outfielder Delmon Young, reliever Phil Coke and utility man Don Kelly. That means unless the club can come to terms with the players before midnight on January 18, the club and the players will both submit proposed salary figures to an arbitration panel, and an arbitration hearing will be tentatively scheduled for February. If an agreement is not reached before the hearing, the panel will choose to award one side or the other its requested salary.
For Young, this will be his third, and final season of arbitration eligibility. Delmon is eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. The other four players will be eligible for arbitration for the first time in their careers. Porcello and Kelly are eligible as "super two" players (those with more than two years and 146 days but less than three years of major league service time), and will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. Scherzer and Coke each have three years of service on their major league resumes and will be eligible for free agency after three more seasons.
The Tigers acquired Young from the Twins last August, knowing that he had little or no surplus value above his salary, which was $5.35 million in 2011. There was some speculation that the Twins may not offer Delmon a contract this winter. However the Tigers hope that the former overall first draft choice can finally put it all together and reach his potential. Young projects to make $6 to $7 million for the 2012 season, and the Tigers would like to sign him to a one year contract.The Tigers' two arbitration eligible starting pitchers are in a similar situation for the moment. Each player is a former first round draft choice, each is heading to arbitration for the first time, and each has stat totals in the same neighborhood, at least in terms of the traditional wins and ERA numbers, for the first few seasons in the major leagues. Each player figures to make about $4 million, give or take half a million bucks, for the 2012 season. Where they differ is that Scherzer, with more than three full years of service time in the majors, will only be eligible for arbitration two more years before being eligible for free agency, while Porcello won't have logged the necessary six years until after the 2015 season. Porcello figures to receive a bit higher bump because of his salary history, despite the fact that he has logged a bit less time in the show than Scherzer.
Phil Coke's pocket book took a significant hit last summer when, with a 1- 8 record as a starting pitcher, he was relegated back to his old job in the bullpen, where he stands to make much less through the arbitration process than he would if had he remained in the rotation. As a starter, Coke would not have had the career numbers to warrant $4 million like Scherzer and Porcello, but he'd get considerably more than the $1.25 to $1.6 million that he stands to receive as a relief pitcher.
Don Kelly notched some valuable hits for the Tigers down the stretch, including in the playoffs, in 2011. As it stands today, he may be in line for the bulk of playing time at third base if you believe everything Tiger management tells us -- I don't. Kelly's history as a part time player, and his status as a first time arbitration eligible super two player should keep his salary for 2012 under the $1 million mark, but it should just about double from last year's $423k salary.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and Tigers' legal counsel John Westhoff will be working to reach an agreement with the five arbitration eligible players to keep their perfect record of avoiding arbitration since coming to Detroit intact.
Few cases around major league baseball actually go to an arbitration hearing each year, because both owners and players have access to the same data and know the general salary range in which an arbitration decision is likely to fall.