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Spring Training Question: What will the Tigers do with Brennan Boesch?

Brennan Boesch can be one of the best hitters in the league, or one of the worst. What are the Tigers options if he doesn't hit this spring?

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Brennan Boesch was one of the worst players in the American League during the 2012 season. At the plate, he posted a WAR of negative 1.4. Only the RangersMichael Young was worse. His wOBA was a paltry .288, which was seventh worst in the league among qualified hitters. In the field, his negative 18.2 UZR/ 150 was worst in the entire league. His negative 8 DRS, if you prefer the Bill James fielding metric, was among the bottom ten.

Despite Boesch’s horrible season, the Tigers allowed him to log enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. While Boesch had some competition for the title of "worst player" from team mate Ryan Raburn, the club at least had the good sense to release Raburn after the season. But not Boesch.

The best case scenario is that Boesch regains the form that he displayed during the first halves of his first two seasons in the majors. That kind of production is legitimate all star level stuff.

The Tigers not only tendered Boesch a contract prior to the winter deadline, but they settled with him on a one year contract to avoid arbitration worth $ 2.3 million. Boesch was bound to get paid once the club decided to take him to the dance. As we indicated in this previous article, the floor for a full time outfielder in his first season of arbitration eligibility is around $ 2 million. But, in typical generous fashion, Boesch got an even better deal from the Tigers.

One can’t really blame the organization for not wanting to give up on Boesch just yet. After all, this is the same player who hit .342 .397 .593 .990 with a dozen homers and 49 RBI before the All Star break in 2010. The same outfielder who hit .306 .360 .490 .851 with a dozen homers and 44 RBI before the break in 2011. That performance was sustained over 347 plate appearances. Not exactly a tiny sample.

Of course, the best case scenario is that Boesch regains the form that he displayed during the first halves of his first two seasons in the majors. That kind of production is legitimate all star level stuff. Listening to manager Jim Leyland declare "will the real Brennan Boesch please stand up" has become an annual ritual at Tigerfest. At his best, he's as good as Josh Hamilton. At worst, he's worse than Josh Anderson.

So, the Tigers are stuck with Boesch and his $ 2.3 million contract. Or are they? Major league baseball’s collective bargaining agreement provides terms for how and when players can be released, and how much they will be paid if and when their club decides to cut them loose.

Let’s say that Boesch continues to struggle this spring and the Tigers feel that he is not good enough to make the team. He has a couple of options left, so they could send him to the minors, but he’d still receive that $ 2.3 million salary as long as he’s in the organization.

They could try to trade Boesch to another club, perhaps one that’s in rebuilding mode and would take him, hoping they strike gold and he regains his old form. There was word after the season that the Seattle Mariners had some interest.

When an arbitration eligible player settles on a contract, even if there is a hearing which results in a one year contract, he does receive a major league deal, but that deal is not fully guaranteed. Boesch could be released, under certain circumstances, without the Tigers having to pay his full salary.

The uniform players’ contract, which is part of the CBA, says in rule 7 (b) that a club can release a player if, in the opinion of the club, the player shall

(2) fail, in the opinion of the Club’s management, to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability to qualify or continue as a member of the Club’s team;

In other words, if it is the opinion of the club that Boesch isn’t good enough to make the team, they can cut him. The players’ association wouldn’t like it. They may even file a grievance, but that wouldn't likely get very far. The MLBPA would essentially have to prove that the club didn’t really hold the opinion that Boesch wasn’t good enough, and that his release was based on financial considerations.

Now, anyone who thinks that the Detroit Tigers would release a player making $ 2.3 million because of money, even if they really believed that the player deserved to be on the team, simply hasn’t been paying attention. After all, this is the same club that allowed an $ 18 million option to vest for a hobbled Magglio Ordonez after the 2009 season. Moreover, the grievance process is heavily skewed toward clubs when it comes to player personnel decisions.

In any case, if the Tigers did decide to give up on Boesch, and didn’t want to send him to the minors, and the Mariners didn’t want to give Casper Wells back to Detroit for him, the club could put him on waivers where any club could take on his contract. If he cleared waivers (another factor that could work strongly against any grievance), he could be given his outright release.

In the event it comes down to letting Boesch go, his salary would be partially guaranteed, as follows according to article IX of the CBA:

- If a player is released prior to the commencement of spring training, he receives 30 days pay, or one sixth of his annual salary.
- If a player is released at least 16 days prior to opening day, he receives the same 30 days pay. (A season is 180 days for contract purposes).
- If a player is released after the 16th day before the season, but before opening day, he receives 45 days pay, or one quarter of his annual salary.
- If a player is released after opening day, his full salary is guaranteed.

- If another club claims the player on waivers, the new club assumes the full contract

- If a player clears waivers and is released, then signed by another club, the new club pays a pro rated portion of the major league minimum salary from the time that he is signed through the end of the season.

To put this in real money terms, if Boesch is released on or before March 16th, he would receive $ 383,333.33. If he wakes up on a Tiger on St. Patrick’s day, he gets at least $ 575,000.00. If he is not released before opening day, he receives his full salary of $ 2.3 million.

Most likely, the Tigers would still try to find another major league club to take Boesch, rather than just release him, even if they have to pay a chunk of his salary. The more salary Detroit pays, the better player they’re likely to get in return. While Boesch may not be worth a salary of $ 2.3 million if he's not hitting in the spring, he does have options left, and he should still have some value on the market.

Of course, the Tigers aren’t thinking in terms of how much they can save by cutting Brennan Boesch. Leyland’s comments and the actions of management indicate that they are hopeful that he returns to form and is a productive player for them, but they have no idea what to expect, or how to fix him. His upside is much higher than that of Andy Dirks, who was very productive last year, but nothing like the .990 OPS that Boesch posted in his first half season, and probably not equal to Boesch’s full 2011 season, second half swoon included. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.