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Tigers payroll set to increase again in 2015

The Detroit Tigers are expected to see their payroll increase once again for the 2015 season, even if they lose some veteran players to free agency.

Rob Carr

The Detroit Tigers had the fifth highest payroll in Major League Baseball in 2014, at $163.6 million on Opening Day. All signs point to that number increasing, even if the club makes relatively few new player acquisitions during the off season. Following is the contract status of the players on the 2014 roster.

Free Agents
Player 2014 Salary Status
Max Scherzer $15.5 million Free Agent
Victor Martinez $12 million Free Agent
Torii Hunter $14 million Free Agent
Joba Chamberlain
$2.5 million Free Agent
Phil Coke $1.9 million Free Agent
Jim Johnson $10 million*
Free Agent
TOTAL $46.5 million

*Detroit pays a prorated share of the major league minimum for Johnson.

Joel Hanrahan had a salary of $1 million and is a free agent, but did not play a game for Detroit during the 2014 season.

Players under guaranteed contracts
Player 2014 Salary 2015 Salary
Justin Verlander $20 million $28 million
Miguel Cabrera $22 million $22 million
Anibal Sanchez $16.8 million $16.8 million
Ian Kinsler $16 million $16 million
Joe Nathan $9 million $10 million
Rajai Davis $5 million
$5 million
TOTAL $ 88.8 million
$97.8 million

The Tigers have six players under guaranteed contracts with salaries totaling $98 million for the 2015 season. They have two club options, for $7 million on Joakim Soria, and $5.4 million on Alex Avila, which they are expected to exercise. That brings the sub total to $110.4 million.

Arbitration eligible players
Player 2014 Salary 2015 estimate
David Price $14 million $18 million
Rick Porcello $8.5 million $12.5 million
JD Martinez $510,000 $3 million
Andy Dirks $1.625 million $2 million
Al Alburquerque $875,000 $1.5 million
Don Kelly $1 million $1.1 million
TOTAL $26.5 million
$38.1 million

The team has six players eligible for salary arbitration, including starting pitchers David Price and Rick Porcello.  I’ve estimated that those salaries will total another $38.1 million. If you’re keeping score, that’s $148.3 million for 14 players.

If the Tigers only bring back Victor Martinez at an estimated $16 million -- matching the salary of the highest paid designated hitter, David Ortiz -- the total salaries for just 16 players is at $164.3 million, which is already more than the Opening Day payroll from a year ago.

If the club fills out the roster with Jose Iglesias at $1.7 million and nine more players making just above the minimum salary of $510,000 each, that will leave the opening day payroll for 2015 at $170.6 million. That is without Max Scherzer or Torii Hunter, and without any upgrades in center field or in the bullpen (other than addition by subtraction).

If the Tigers were to do nothing more than to exercise the options on Soria and Avila and sign Victor Martinez, they would conceivably have an outfield with J.D. Martinez in one corner, Rajai Davis in center, and either Tyler Collins or Andy Dirks in another corner. The bullpen would have Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque, and a collection of the same relief pitchers that have been through the revolving door in Detroit over the past couple of seasons.

Of course, no Tigers offseason in recent memory has been boring, and this year will probably be no exception to that rule. There are always free agent signings, trades, and unexpected players being released. At a minimum, I think you can expect the Tigers to acquire an outfielder and at least one additional bullpen arm.

Dave Dombrowski has been in this situation before, where payroll was rising before any moves were made to upgrade the roster for the following season. Such was the case after the 2009 season and, most recently, at this time last year when eight players all departed via free agency.

In 2009, Dombrowski traded Curtis Granderson in the deal that brought Scherzer, Coke, and Austin Jackson to Detroit. That cleared room to sign Jose Valverde. Last winter, he traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, which gave him the flexibility to add Joe Nathan and Rajai Davis. Each of those moves gave him roster flexibility and payroll flexibility to manoeuver.  Don’t be surprised if there’s another surprise trade this coming offseason.