Wednesday, December 2 is the deadline for Major League Baseball clubs to offer a contract to their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players, or allow them to walk away as free agents. Usually, the decision is only complicated for those who are eligible for arbitration, as they may not be worth the cost of paying them what they stand to receive in arbitration.
The Detroit Tigers have five players eligible for arbitration this offseason. They are certain to make offers to J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias, and very likely to Andrew Romine. They released Josh Wilson in October. Less certain is whether they will tender a contract offer to relief pitchers Neftali Feliz and Al Alburquerque. Feliz is projected to receive a salary increase from $4.125 million to $5.2 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, while Alburquerque is projected to receive $2.1 million after earning a salary of $1.725 million in 2015. Alburquerque has two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining before being eligible for free agency.
|Arbitration eligible Tigers for 2016|
|Player||2015 Salary||2016 Estimate||Arb Year||Free Agent|
|Neftali Feliz||$4.125 million||$5.2 million||4th||2017|
|J.D. Martinez||$3.0 million||$7.8 million||2nd||2018|
|Al Alburquerque||$1.725 million||$2.1 million||2nd||2018|
|Jose Iglesias||$1.444 million||$1.5 million||1st||2019|
|TOTAL||$6.917 million||$17.3 million||-||-|
Teams must make players an offer that is equal to at least 80 percent of their salary earned in the previous season, but that is just the minimum offer. Once made, they begin the arbitration process, where salaries almost always increase as the player has more service time on his résumé. An offer does not necessarily mean that the club must retain a player for the entire next season. They can still release a player in the spring for a portion of his salary prior to the start of the regular season.
In the case of Feliz, the Tigers are not likely to tender a contract offer, but they may be able to come to terms with him before or after he becomes a free agent. Feliz was released during the season by the Texas Rangers and signed as a free agent by Detroit in July, with the Tigers paying just $228,000 of his salary for the 2015 season. He carried a career 2.53 ERA into the 2015 season, but was knocked around for a 6.38 ERA last season. He gave the Tigers something to think about during the final month of the season, posting a 2.03 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP from August 28 to September 28, with zero home runs and one walk allowed.
Feliz would be much more expensive in 2016, with or without arbitration. He would have over six years of service following the 2016 season and would become a free agent unless he signs a multi-year contract. Feliz would not get $5 million per year as a free agent presently and would likely want a one year contract to rebuild his value, so the Tigers will probably choose to spend their resources elsewhere unless terms are agreed.
Alburquerque has four seasons under his belt, all with Detroit. His performance has been inconsistent, ranging from dominant when he’s on his game to unstable when he’s not. He has struck out over 11 batters per nine innings in his career, but has walked five batters per nine frames. When he keeps the ball in the park, he can be effective, but manager Brad Ausmus quit trusting him to protect a lead fairly early in the year. He finished the 2015 campaign with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 67 appearances. Despite the inconsistency, he has been better than some alternatives in Detroit's bullpen.
After April, Alburquerque cut that to a 3.40 ERA, while allowing just one home run the remainder of the season. He ranked third in the Tigers’ bullpen with 0.3 WAR, although that’s not saying much. Over 100 pitchers posted a WAR equal to or better than Alburquerque did in 2015, and over 50 pitchers made at least 67 appearances, including many free agents. Two million dollars for a good relief pitcher is not a lot of money, but it could be allocated towards another late inning bullpen pitcher if payroll is that tight.