Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors has published his annual projected salaries for arbitration-eligible players, and there are nine Detroit Tigers players on the list. If all nine players were to settle their cases for the projected amounts, the salaries would add up to $19.8 million for the 2020 season. That would be an increase of $9 million over the total amount that those same players earned in 2019. However, some of the players are not likely to return next year.
Players who have at least three years of major league service time (but fewer than the six required for free agency) are eligible for arbitration unless they have signed a contract for the 2020 season. In addition, 22 percent of the players with more than two but fewer than three years of service time are eligible as “Super Two” players, as described below.
- Matthew Boyd leads the Tigers’ 2020 arbitration class with a projected salary of $6.4 million, which would represent a raise of $3.6 million. He is arbitration-eligible for the second of four times.
- Michael Fulmer, who spent the entire 2019 season on the injured list following Tommy John surgery, is projected to receive the same $2.8 million salary as he received in 2019. Fulmer lost his arbitration hearing with the club a year ago after requesting $3.2 million. He is also eligible for the second of four times.
- Daniel Norris, who will also be eligible for the second time but is on track for free agency after the 2021 season if he stays in the major leagues, is targeted to get $2.9 million, an increase of $1.625 million over last season.
- Blaine Hardy will be eligible for the third of four times, and he is projected at $ 1.8 million, an increase of $ 500,000 over his 2019 salary. Hardy finished the season on the 60-day injured list and is a candidate to be released or non-tendered this winter.
- John Hicks is eligible for arbitration for the first time as a Super Two player, and his projected salary is $1.7 million. He is also a non-tender candidate based on his performance in 2019 and the fact that he is out of minor league options.
- JaCoby Jones should squeak in as a Super Two player, with two years and 125 days of service time in his major league career. He is also on the 60-day injured list, and figures to be added back to the roster after the World Series. He has a projected salary of $1.4 million
- Buck Farmer is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and is projected to receive $1.1 million, which is double the league minimum salary of $550,000. He has established himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the Tigers’ bullpen.
- Drew VerHagen just missed the Super Two arbitration cutoff by a few days last winter, but spent enough time in the majors in 2019 to easily clear three years of service time. He is projected to receive $900,000.
- Daniel Stumpf is also arbitration-eligible for the first time, and is also on the 60-day injured list. The guess here is that he never makes it back to the roster. His projected paycheck in 2020 is $800,000.
What is the arbitration process?
Teams must tender a contract offer to their arbitration-eligible players by no later than December 2 in order to retain their rights for the following season. The offer can be no less than 80 percent of the player’s salary the previous season — though it is typically much higher. If the two sides have not agreed on a contract for the 2020 season, they will exchange salary figures in January. If there is still no agreement, a three-member arbitration panel will have a hearing in February and choose either one number or the other.
The exact deadlines are listed in our offseason calendar. The Tigers had not had an arbitration case go to a hearing for 18 seasons before Fulmer’s hearing last winter.
How does Super Two work?
Boyd, Hardy, Fulmer, Hicks, and Jones either are or at one time were eligible for arbitration as Super Two players.
The “Super Two” cutoff is based on the amount of service time accrued by the highest 22 percent of players who have between two and three years of service time in the major leagues. This includes time on the major league roster or on an injured list (including the 60-day IL). To be eligible, a player must also have spent at least 86 days on the roster during the previous season. The cutoff has been between 2.122 (two years, 122 days) and 2.146 years (two years, 146 days) of service time in the past. This year, it is projected (by Tigers fan Eddie Bajek) to be 2.115 years, or two years and 115 days.
Players who qualify for Super Two status will be eligible for arbitration four times instead of three before they reach free agency after six years of MLB service time. Jones has barely cleared that mark this season, while Hicks falls just shy of three years of service time.
Not all nine Tigers who are eligible for arbitration are likely to go through the whole process and be with the team next season. The Tigers have six players on the 60-day injured list who have to be activated after the World Series, or released. Two of them (Matt Moore and Tyson Ross) will become free agents, so a roster spot is not needed for them. Fulmer and Jones will be activated, and they need two roster spots. Edwin Jackson, Jordy Mercer, and Gordon Beckham are free agents on the active roster who will leave vacant spots by their departures. That leaves Hardy and Stumpf, the two left-handed relievers, and one remaining 40-man roster spot.
Stumpf is out of minor league options for the 2020 season. The new three-batter minimum rule makes left-handed specialist relievers all but obsolete, and he has been brutal against right handed hitters. The quick solution is to release him rather than wait until the non-tender deadline in December. He is also out of options, which limits flexibility with him.
Hardy has been one of the more valuable relievers on the Tigers roster over the past several seasons, but he struggled through injuries in 2019, and $1.8 million would make him the most expensive reliever in an otherwise inexpensive bullpen. The Tigers are unlikely to go through the arbitration process with him, so it’s possible that they come to an agreement before December. He does have an option left, so he could be sent down if he is not pitching well, and would then receive minor league salary. I would bring him back, but I have a feeling the Tigers will not.
VerHagen has been outrighted and cleared waivers before, and fought his way back to the majors. He is also out of options, but he demonstrated in the second half of the season that he can be a valuable piece in the bullpen, and as an “opener” when needed.
If you have been doing the math to this point, you’ve counted one extra spot on the roster after all the projected roster moves. The end of the season is also the time when any minor league free agents can walk if they have put in their time in the minor leagues and they are not on the roster. Minor league free agents never make it to the Rule 5 draft. They would have to be added at the end of the season.