Overall, the Tigers don’t have the kind of glaring issues to address that many other clubs have. The core nucleus that carried them to their third consecutive AL Central division title, and third straight appearance in baseball’s final four, should remain intact. The pitching rotation will all be back, barring a trade. Seven of nine starting players in the lineup are due to return, with just two set to become free agents -- those being Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta. Peralta’s replacement is likely on the roster, and has been starting at shortstop for the past three months.
Here is the timeline on the decisions that have to be made:
PLAYER AND CLUB OPTIONS:
Just one decision has to be made here, and it’s a pretty simple one. The Tigers will almost surely pick up the 2014 club option on relief pitcher Jose Veras for $3.25 million. Veras is a former closer with the Houston Astros who gives the team some insurance in the event that Joaquin Benoit leaves as a free agent. Veras essentially replaced Octavio Dotel on the roster and at this point might be the only capable veteran relief pitcher under contract. He could serve as a setup man or closer in 2014, and his salary is a bargain in either role.
Players who are not under contract for 2014 and who have at least six years experience in the major leagues may file for free agency immediately after the World Series, which will be no later than November 1st.
Tiger free agents this winter are Peralta, Infante, Benoit, Ramon Santiago, Dotel, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brayan Pena.
Peralta, Santiago, and Dotel do not figure to be back with the Tigers. With Iglesias penciled in as the Tiger shortstop for the foreseeable future, Peralta doesn’t have a job.
Peralta leaving would result in an overall downgrade at the shortstop position and Iglesias’ wizardry with the glove can’t make up the difference. However, they can make up for that by upgrading the offense in another spot, such as left field.
Santiago is the longest tenured Tiger, but they have younger, faster, better hitting players in the organization who can easily fill his role for less money.
Dotel, who will turn 40 in November, is not likely to receive a major league contract after missing almost the entire 2013 season on the disabled list. A team, perhaps Detroit, could sign him to an incentive-laden minor league deal that pays him in the $1-2 million range if he makes it to the majors. Don’t count on it, but don’t be surprised if he’s in Lakeland in March.
Jeremy Bonderman has said that he'd like to pitch again in 2014. He'll first try to get a major league contract, but may have to settle for a minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training. He'd likely have an escape clause if he's not on a major league roster early in the season. Time is not on his side.
Pena was not a bad back up for Alex Avila offensively, but his defense left a lot to be desired. Anyone else miss G-Money (Gerald Laird)?
In order to receive any compensation for a departing free agent, a club must make a qualifying offer equal to a $14.1 million salary for one season. If the player accepts, he stays at that price. If he declines and signs with another club, then his former club receives an extra draft pick between the first and second rounds.
Qualifying offers must be made by no later than five days after the end of the World Series, which will be November 5th at the latest. Players have one week (12 days after the end of the World Series) to accept or reject the offer. Only nine players received offers in all of baseball last year, and all of them declined.
The top free agent priority for Detroit has to be extending Omar Infante. A distant second would be extending or replacing Joaquin Benoit, who did a great job as the team’s closer.
Infante will want to cash in on a career season where he hit .318/.345/.450/.795 and provided very steady defense up the middle. He stands to receive a multi-year contract for over $10 million per season. We’ll break down the market for Infante and Benoit in the coming days.
The Tigers have to decide whether to make a "qualifying offer" of about $14 million for one season to Infante and/or Benoit. Making that offer could serve as a deterrent to any potential suitors, who would have to give up their highest unprotected draft pick in next June’s amateur draft, and would also ensure that if the players did leave, they would receive compensation.
Free agent players coming off career seasons would prefer to capitalize by signing multi-year contracts to cash in on their success while their stock is high. $14 million would be a high salary for Infante, or for Benoit, but both players would prefer a multi-year contract. Infante received $4 million per season and Benoit $5.5 million annually during their soon-to-expire contracts.
In the first five days after the season, the Tigers are likely to try to work out an extension with Infante. My estimate would be in the $27-33 million range over three years.
Dave Dombrowski has avoided paying any more than $9 million per season for a closer, and that was when the club picked up the third year option on Jose Valverde. Still, the team almost always retained a free agent player who could fill the ninth inning role. 2013 was an exception when Valverde was allowed to leave as a free agent, and the job was given to Bruce Rondon. When Rondon didn’t grab the job in spring training, they went back to two former free agents in Valverde and Benoit to get the job done. I can’t see the Tigers offering Benoit $14.1 million, but they might try to work out a more reasonable two year deal for no more than $20 million. Even that would be expensive.
At season's end, the club will activate players who are on the disabled list, and some players will be designated for assignment, outrighted off the roster to the minor leagues, or just released if they don’t fit into the team's future plans.
Danny Worth will be activated from the 60-day disabled list and likely returned to the 40 man roster. Worth’s stock has dropped during the season due to injuries and sub par performance, and he has been passed up on the depth chart by Hernan Perez. Worth does not figure to be more than a utility player, and he is out of options, so it will be do-or-die time for him next spring. There is no harm in keeping him if they have room on the roster. Otherwise, he could clear waivers and be outrighted to the minors.
RULE 5 DRAFT:
By November 20, teams will have a few spaces on their rosters, created by free agency filings, and they will need those spaces to make room to protect their developing prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Eddie Bajek keeps a comprehensive data base of all players in the Tiger organization, including a list of Rule 5 eligibles. That will be the topic of another forthcoming article.
Teams may take players off the major league roster before the draft, which is scheduled for December 12th this year, and they may acquire players from another major league roster or via free agency, but they may not add players from within their organization to the protected list after November 20th.
Players on the roster bubble could include pitchers Luis Marte, Jose Ortega, Evan Reed, and Casey Crosby, catcher Ramon Cabrera, and infielders Dixon Machado, Danny Worth, and Francisco Martinez. Between as many as seven free agents and eight bubble boys, there will be plenty of space to add any priority prospects. The club won't remove a player from the roster unless they are willing to risk losing him and they need the roster space.
Players with less than six years but more than two years and 121 days of major league service time are eligible for arbitration, as long as the club tenders them a contract offer by no later than December 2nd.
This year’s arbitration crop includes nine players:
Third year eligible:Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Don Kelly, Phil Coke
Second year eligible: Doug Fister, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila
First year eligible: Al Alburquerque, Andy Dirks (both will qualify for Super Two status)
Needless to say, all eyes will be on Max Scherzer, the likely Cy Young winner who is under club control for just one more season. Scherzer received $6.25 million in his fifth major league season, and figures to double that amount in his sixth season, which will be his last under club control unless he signs a contract extension.
The Tigers have decisions to make about whether to tender a contract to Coke and Kelly. Frankly, I would not. I think they can do better. But then, I would not have made the offer to Brennan Boesch last December. The Tigers did, and they let him go for a third of his settled contract amount in mid-March.
Once offers are tendered, or not, the arbitration process doesn’t really heat up until January, when clubs and players must exchange salary figures. In the interim, free agents and current players can be signed and trades can be made.
BYB will be breaking down each of the arbitration cases for eligible players in the coming days, and exploring the possibilities for new players to join the Tigers for the 2014 campaign.