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How Much Can the Tigers Pay a Closer?

Jon Paul Morosi's inbox at the Freep is apparently full of queries regarding the Detroit Tigers signing a closer, because he addressed the situation in two separate articles yesterday. Perhaps the most important question Morosi tried to answer was whether or not the team has enough money available to sign someone who could supplant Fernando Rodney.

What do you say, Dave Dombrowski?

"We have been in a spot where somebody has offered more than we were willing to spend, or we did not have the same interest that another club had, or we just didn't have much interest in the guy."

Okay, that doesn't quite answer it. How much have the Tigers been "willing to spend"? Morosi tries to crunch the numbers, presuming that this year's payroll will be close to last year's $134 million (going on Dombrowski's word), and factoring in the salaries that will have to be paid for arbitration, and comes up with a figure.

[...] they should have at least $5 million to spend on a closer.

Well, well, well. $5 million. (And that's just a guess.) That should get it done, right? Of course, it wouldn't have with Kerry Wood ($10 million a year) or Brian Fuentes ($8.75 million), so that sort of explains the Tigers' current predicament. Actually, it wouldn't have gotten Trevor Hoffman ($6 million), either. (It was enough for Takaski Saito, though.) But what about the relievers still available?

Last year, Brandon Lyon made $3.125 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His teammate, Juan Cruz, was paid almost $2 million. Both players figure to be looking for raises, especially Cruz. Could $5 million get him? Probably, but if the Tigers don't think he has the control or experience to be a closer, then it's kind of a moot point.

Could that money get Jason Isringhausen, the pitcher Morosi wrote about in his other article? He was paid $8 million last season, the final year of a three-year contract. No team is going to pay him that this year. Nor should they. He's coming off elbow surgery and a bad season. And even while attempting to tout him, Morosi can't make much of a case, ultimately comparing him to... Todd Jones?

At his best, Isringhausen would resemble Jones. Tigers manager Jim Leyland would have a good idea of what to expect from Isringhausen, since Leyland worked for the Cardinals during part of his career there.

Would Isringhausen stay healthy for the whole season? Probably not, if you look at his recent history. But maybe he could have a decent run during the first half, as Troy Percival did with Tampa Bay last year.

Suddenly, Rodney doesn't sound so bad in comparison. But maybe Morosi's right. If Isringhausen can stay healthy, at least through the first half of the season, that might give someone like Casey Fien or Ryan Perry a chance to find his footing. However, with "if" and "maybe" key parts of the sentence, that's hardly an assuring proposition. And again, what sort of price tag would you put on that?

Morosi also raised the possibility of Jeremy Bonderman eventually becoming a closer, but how likely is that? The Tigers need him in the starting rotation, for one thing. And that will have meant that all other options failed. Bondo is a "Break glass in case of emergency" scenario. And maybe not even a good one.

So is $5 million enough to bring in the kind of reliever the Tigers need? Or is that a sobering, slap-to-reality figure? And if Isringhausen is the only real option, should Detroit just sit on that money? Or should that cash perhaps be saved for any acquistion that could be made during Spring Training or before the trade deadline?