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The mourning after: roster decisions loom for Tigers

A look at the roster decisions that the Tigers will have to make in the coming weeks.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 season has ended, sooner than the Tigers and their fans would have liked. But there is no time to rest or to look back for Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers’ front office. As soon as the World Series is over, decisions have to be made. Following is a summary of the roster decisions that will have to be made in the coming weeks.

Contract options:
The first decisions that teams have to make, two days after the World Series, is whether to exercise club options on player contracts. The Tigers have two such options.

Alex Avila: The Tigers have a team option for 2015 on Avila for $ 5.4 million with a $ 200K buyout. The option could have vested automatically if Avila reached certain milestones, including a silver slugger award, that he hasn’t come close to achieving since his career season in 2011. If Avila's health checks out, he club will still almost surely pick up his option.

Joakim Soria; The club holds a $ 7 million option with a $ 500K buyout on Soria for the 2015 season. After trading their top starting pitching prospect in Jake Thompson, and thier top relief prospect in Corey Knebel to get Soria, letting him go for nothing would be a tough pill to swallow. The club will likely judge Soria on his larger body of work than on his very few appearances with the Tigers, which were disrupted by his time on the disabled list.  Soria would be a valuable set up man and provide needed insurance for Joe Nathan as the closer.

Prediction: Tigers exercise the option on Soria, and on Avila if he is cleared to play.  

Free agents:
There are seven players on the Tigers’ 40 man roster who will become free agents after this season. The team has to decide within five days after the World Series whether they will make a qualifying offer of about $ 15 million for one season, which would net them a supplemental first round draft pick as compensation should the player sign with another team. Players then have another seven days to accept or decline the offer. Very few players receive qualifying offers, and no player has yet accepted such an offer, instead seeking a multi year contract on the free agent market. The free agent players earned salaries from Detroit totaling about $ 47.6 million in 2014. 

Max Scherzer; After turning down a six year, $ 140 million offer from the Tigers at the start of the season, agent Scott Boras will be taking his client to market, probably looking for an eight year, $ 200 million contract. He will be willing to wait out the winter to get it. Keeping Scherzer in Detroit will be difficult, especially if the team can extend David Price.  

Victor Martinez: At age 35, Victor is coming off a career season where he showed once again that he is one of the best hitters in the league. He led the league in on base percentage and wOBA, and was second in slugging percentage, batting average, and wRC+. The list of teams interested in prying him away from Detroit includes the Chicago White Sox, who have a protected first round pick should they manage to sign Martinez.

Making the qualifying offer is a no brainer, as is Martinez declining the offer. He can land a multi year contract for more money. The question is whether the Tigers will be willing to give Martinez enough years to keep him in Detroit. This should be a top priority for the Tigers this off season.

Torii Hunter: One of the worst fielding outfielders in the American league, should be considered primarily as a designated hitter for the rest of his playing days. A clubhouse leader who can still hit, Hunter ranked 28th in the league in wOBA. The Tigers should not entertain the notion of making a qualifying offer, nor bringing Hunter back as an outfielder. He may fit as a DH if Martinez leaves.

Jim Johnson:  Johnson’s $ 10 million contract will expire at season’s end, and he will be looking for any sort of a major league job at a dramatically reduced salary. Johnson lost his effectiveness so dramatically that some team is bound to believe that he can get it back. He still is able to keep the ball down, and his command has gradually improved, but not enough even to make the Tigers’ desperate bullpen for the post season.

Joba Chamberlain: For the first half of the season, Joba was the best relief pitcher on the team. During the second half of the season, he was as bad as any relief pitcher on the team. Manager Brad Ausmus relied on Chamberlain way too long and it cost the team toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.

2014 was Chamberlain’s first full season back from Tommy John surgery and ankle surgery. Typically, it takes two seasons to fully recover from TJ, and Joba has had that time. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that he will come back with a strong season, but he has never had a full good season in his career.

Phil Coke: In five seasons with Detroit, Coke has pitched 324 innings, with an ERA of 4.25 and a WHIP of 1.52. He has never had a season with WHIP under 1.44. He again was killed by right handed hitters: .333    .394    .476    .871, and he wasn’t even dominant against left handers. In 2014, he posted a WAR of 0.0, and the same for the second half of the season.

Joel Hanrahan: The Tigers signed the former Red Sox closer, hoping that he could provide some relief, but he never made it back from the disabled list in his first year since Tommy John surgery. he might be worth a shot on a minor league contract.

Prediction: Scherzer declines a qualifying offer and signs a megadeal elsewhere. Tigers and Martinez work out a three year contract. Hunter retires. Coke signs with another club. Johnson and Hanrahan find other clubs to give them a major league deal with incentives.

Arbitration eligible players.
The Tigers have six players eligible for arbitration this coming winter, who earned a total of $ 26.5 million in salaries in 2014, and will receive a raise for next season, if retained. They are: David Price, Rick Porcello, Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Al Alburquerque and JD Martinez.

The salaries of the twelve players above is $ 124.3 million, plus arbitration increases which I would guesstimate at about $ 12.5 million, bringing the payroll to about $ 137 million with 13 roster spots to fill, and free agents to replace. If they pick up the options on Avila and Soria, that’s another $ 12.4 million, bringing payroll close to $ 150 million with 11 spots to fill. The Tigers may be able to bring back Victor Martinez, and they probably will sign some other free agents to fill vacancies left by departing free agents. There will be trades and other moves that impact the payroll as well.

Possible non tenders:
Contracts must be tendered to arbitration eligible players by December 2nd, or they become free agents. Typically, a player who is set to make more in arbitration than the club feels they are worth is the type of player who is not tendered a contract.  Don Kelly could fit that description. The Tigers like Kelly’s versatility, and that can be an asset as long as he is indeed used as the 25th man, and they have covered their bases with a decent hitter or two on the bench.

The Tigers came to terms with Kelly on a one year contract for $ 1 million for 2014, but they were not willing to go to arbitration. I would guesstimate that about the same thing happens this season. 

Players under contract:
The Tigers have six players under guaranteed contracts for the 2015 season, for a total of $ 97.8 million. They are Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan, and Rajai Davis. Verlander is due for a raise of $ 8 million next season.

Players under club control:

Players with less than two years and about 121 days of major league experience will earn close to the major league minimum salary.  Jose Iglesias will receive a larger salary, since his pay can not be cut by more than 20%. If the Tigers were to replace all six of their departing free agents internally and pay Iglesias the same amount, that adds $ 6.6 million to the payroll.

Roster additions:

By November 20, the team will submit a roster of up to 40 players who will be protected from the rule 5 draft. Expect prospects such as slick fielding shortstop Dixon Machado to be added to the roster. Other players may be released or become minor league free agents if not added to the 40 man roster. This is a long list of marginal minor league players each season.