One year ago, the Detroit Tigers were in need for a couple of starting pitchers after trading young righthander Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, the Tigers' plans -- which involved acquiring Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon -- fell apart quickly. This failure was arguably the single biggest reason for the team’s fall from first to last in the standings in 2015.
Unfortunately, they appear to be in the same situation again. By our estimate, the Tigers have about $40 million in available payroll to spend on new players under the current luxury tax threshold, where a 17 percent tax kicks in. The threshold is at $189 million, including $11.7 million in player benefits, leaving $178 million for salaries, or right about where the Tigers' Opening Day payroll was last April. Most of the winter spending will pay salaries for two new starting pitchers.
Avila’s comments would seem to indicate that the Tigers are looking for one premier pitcher and one mid-to-back-end starter.
"We want to add to starting pitchers from outside the organization. One would be in the mix for one of the top three spots (with Verlander and Sanchez) and the other would be less (No. 4 or No. 5 starter)."
"I think two starting pitchers, added to that rotation, will bring down some of these young guys that we don’t want to force-feed. We can put them right there in Triple-A. It’ll give us the depth to get through 162 games."
Avila said that owner Mike Ilitch would give him the payroll necessary to bolster the roster, but don’t expect the Tigers to spend $200 million on a starting pitcher.
(Avila) wouldn’t elaborate on whether the payroll for the upcoming season would be higher or lower, but said a payroll in the $189-200 million range was "ridiculous."
Fortunately, this winter’s crop of free agent pitchers is stacked with talent. Former Tigers ace David Price leads the group, and is likely to be joined by Zack Greinke, who can opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The potential American and National League Cy Young winners could be on the market at the same time. The two stars will be looking for deals in the range of Max Scherzer’s $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals signed last offseason.
By all accounts, the Tigers never really got deep into discussions about extending Price while he was in Detroit. The Toronto Blue Jays seem poised to make a strong push to keep him, while the Dodgers have cash to burn and aren’t likely to let Greinke get away. Other available starters include the Royals’ Johnny Cueto, Chicago's Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals, and former Tiger Doug Fister. A custom stat chart with all the free agent starting pitchers is here, at FanGraphs.
*Has an opt-out clause on his current contract.
Strong consideration must also be given to the number of years committed to a pitcher to get him under contract. The two most common ways to keep the duration of free agent contracts low are to sign older pitchers who can’t get a multi-year contract on the free agent market, or those who are coming off subpar seasons and would like a shorter deal to rebuild their market value before committing to a multi-year contract. Bartolo Colon of the Mets and Chris Young of the Royals are a couple of older veterans, while Doug Fister is one who was injured and moved out of the Nationals’ deep rotation into the bullpen in 2015.
The trade market also offers a way for the team to find players with controllable contract terms. The San Diego Padres, who made a complete mess of their roster last winter, have free agent Ian Kennedy, as well as Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, who are both under contract for 2016. The prospect cost could be significant, but the advantages of a lower salary and short-term commitment may be worth the price in talent.
BYB will be breaking down the individual free agent starting pitchers throughout the offseason.