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Tigers' 2016 payroll leaves room to add players

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General manager Al Avila will have his work cut out for him in the offseason, trying to make the additions necessary for the Tigers to contend without blowing the budget.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers had an Opening Day payroll of  $172,792,25 in 2015, according to Cot's Contracts. For purposes of calculating the luxury tax, their payroll came to $178.4 million. That's taking into account the average annual value of players on multi-year contracts, and all the players on the 40-man roster including those on optional assignment to the minor leagues. Performance bonuses earned during the season, plus in-season call-ups would be added to that total.

Looking at the moves that were made once the Tigers picked up the option on Joakim Soria and extended Victor Martinez after the 2014 season, one might get the distinct impression that the club was limited by the luxury tax threshold, which is $189 million (including $11.65 million in player benefits), leaving $177.3 million for salaries.

The Tigers made some minor moves prior to the season, such as signing Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny to contracts for one year at $1 million apiece. During the season, they picked up Neftali Feliz, paying a prorated portion of the major league minimum, and Randy Wolf, who will receive a prorated portion of $800,000 from Detroit. That's it for help from the front office when the team was struggling to contend in their division.

When the Tigers unloaded the contracts of Soria, David Price, and Yoenis Cespedes, they saved $12.7 million, putting them well under the luxury tax trigger. This is not to say that owner Mike Ilitch was not prepared to pay the tax in order to get the players needed to make a playoff run, but it can certainly be said that the moves that were made prior to and during the season failed to produce a contending roster in 2015.

The fact that the Tigers will not have to pay a tax in 2015 could prove to be significant in 2016. In the last year of the current collective bargaining agreement, the tax would have jumped from 17 percent to 30 percent if the club were to exceed the threshold two seasons in a row. Let's say the Tigers have a total payroll of $200 million, or $11 million above the tax threshold; they would pay a tax penalty of under $2 million. That may or may not be a factor in what players the club can acquire this winter, but it is something to keep in mind as Avila goes shopping this winter.

As we break down the Tigers' payroll for 2016, let's start with the contracts that will be coming off the books due to players becoming free agents after this season. These players, including those who were traded in July, head the list of those who will need to be replaced as the team builds a contending team in 2016.

Player
2015 Salary
Actual Paid
Nathan 10.0 M
11.0
Soria 7.0 4.62
Davis 5.0 5.0
Cespedes 10.5 6.93
Gorzelanny 1.0 1.050
Price 19.75 13.0
Simon 5.55 5.55
Chamberlain 1.0 0.932K
Avila
5.4
5.4
TOTAL $65.2M 53.5M

Add $180,000 for the prorated portion of Randy Wolf's contract

The Tigers will save $65.2 million from their 2015 payroll due to expiring contracts, and over $53 million by comparison with their actual net cost. This is not the amount that is available to keep payroll at the same level, however. Following are the players on multi year contracts, some of whom are due for salary increases, and the players eligible for arbitration, with a rough estimate of their salary increases.

Tigers on multi-year contracts

Player 2015 Salary (millions) 2016 salary 2016 AAV
Free Agency
M Cabrera 22.0 28.0 29.2 2024++
Verlander 28.0 28.0 25.7 2020
V Martinez 14.0 18.0 17.0 2019
Sanchez 16.8 16.8 16.0 2018+
Kinsler 16.0 14.0 16.0 2018+
TOTAL
94.8
104.8
103.9
---

Note: the Tigers will begin paying $6 million of Prince Fielder's contract in 2016 for the next five seasons.
Miguel Cabrera earned an additional $ 100K bonus for making the All-Star team.

Tigers eligible for arbitration for 2016

Player
2015 Salary
2016 Est
Arb Year
Free Agent
Feliz*
228K (of 4.125)
5.0
4th
2017
JD Martinez 3.0 7.5
2nd
2018
Alburquerque 1.725 2.5
2nd
2018
Iglesias 1.444 2.0
1st
2019
Romine
520 K
800K
1st
2019
J Wilson
507 K
750K
Last
2017
TOTAL
7.42M
18.55M
---
---

Detroit paid $228,000 of Feliz's salary in 2015, which is indicated in the total above, but the Tigers would be responsible for his full salary in 2016. He is a possible non-tender candidate if the two sides do not come to terms. Obviously, the arbitration numbers will be greatly influenced by what happens with Feliz. It is likely that the team will try to come to terms with him before making a contract offer in December. The five other arbitration eligible players stand to increase their salaries in the range of about $6 million. Projections are based on players earning a major league salary. For purposes of further calculations, let's leave Feliz on the side and see where he might fit in later.

This brings the Tigers to $104 million for five players on multi year contracts, $6 million for Fielder, and $13.55 million for arbitration-eligible players, brings the total to $123.55 million for 10 players, without Feliz. Rounding out the 25-man roster with players earning the major league minimum would bring that up to $131.2 million. Another 15 players on optional assignment would earn approximately $82,500 each, bringing the 40-man roster payroll for tax purposes up to $132,437,500.

Using the Tigers' 2015 Opening Day payroll as a benchmark, which is very close to the luxury tax threshold, the Tigers would have some $40 million plus to spend in the offseason. If you agree with me that two starting pitchers, two late inning relievers, and a corner outfielder are needed, expect a combination of free agency signings and trades before Opening Day 2016.