With the addition of seven minor league prospects to the Tigers' 40-man roster on Wednesday, the team now has a total of 39 players on the roster. That leaves them just one slot, as of now, to potentially add a player in the Rule 5 draft, which will be held on Dec. 12. Or, one slot to add a closer, a second baseman, or other pieces that are missing if they want to complete the roster with major league caliber players.
Can you see the Tigers starting Hernan Perez at second base? Or just adding a closer to replace Joaquin Benoit and calling it quits for the bullpen? Not if they're serious about winning. Do the math. More additions are needed, major additions, so others will have to be removed to make room for them.
Two possibilities stand out like a pair of sore thumbs. Phil Coke and Don Kelly were non tender candidates before the magnificent seven prospects were added on Wednesday. But now, their places on the major league roster are hanging by a thread.
The club has until Dec. 2 to tender contracts to players who are not under contract already for the 2014 season. Only six players are under multi year contracts. Nine of the remaining players, including Coke and Kelly, are eligible for arbitration. The contract that they must be offered has to be at least 80 percent of their salary last season. But the amount of the offer doesn't matter, since their salary would be set by an arbitrator if they don't come to terms on an amount with the club before February.
Look back one year for two good examples of how the Tigers handled a pair of potentially valuable players who had struggled the prior season. Ryan Raburn was not tendered a contract and became a free agent. Brennan Boesch was tendered a contract, signed to a one year, non guaranteed contract for $2.3 million, but was let go for one sixth of that amount on March 15. Coke and Kelly could meet the same fate as either Boesch or Raburn.
Or the team could do what they did with Kelly last year. Set him free and, if he doesn't land a major league contract with another club, bring him back to spring training on a minor league contract with a shot to make the team.
At a minimum, the Tigers figure to sign a second baseman and a closer, lest they again suffer the Sizemore syndrome, or the Rondon debacle all over again. We've seen what happens when they throw unproven rookies into starting roles with promises of grandeur. They usually fail.
Fact of the matter is that the Tigers need more than just a closer in the bullpen. While Benoit did a fine job replacing Valverde in the closer role, they were still a few cards short of a full deck in the bullpen all season. Jose Veras helped, but he was let go, with Dombrowski saying that he just didn't have the ($4 million) dollars to commit to him. But if he does this right, he'll have to commit about that much to someone, or enter the season with weakness in the pen once again.
It is possible that the Tigers will cut other players on the 40-man roster as necessary to add others, although they don't have to until the time comes. The longer they keep them, the better chance they have of making a trade for another player. The same applies to Coke and Kelly.
In fact, it could be the case that Dombrowski intends to trade some of the very prospects who were just added to the roster. Could be that they're being protected precisely because he knows that other clubs would pluck them in the draft, if they were left exposed. If they were to be simply put on waivers to be removed from the roster later on, when the space is needed, there is a greater chance of losing them through waivers than there is through the rule 5 draft, because they could then be immediately sent to the minors.
So the game of musical chairs continues on the 40-man roster. As more spots are filled, more questions arise. Such are the winter games between baseball seasons.
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