The Detroit Tigers will head into the off season in October 2022, secure in the knowledge that changes are needed. Once a new General Manager is in place, changes are needed primarily to the lineup, with some shoring up to do in the starting pitching rotation, depending on the health reports for their beleaguered, banged up staff. There should be plenty of room in the budget to add some valuable players for the 2023 season, just due to expiring contracts and relatively modest pay raises due to the current players on the roster.
In summary, the Tigers’ payroll as of opening day, 2022, was just over $135 million, which is just below the major league average, ranking 17th of 30 MLB clubs. The Tigers will have over $25 million coming off the books due to expiring contracts, and they have twelve players earning $20 million who will be eligible for arbitration. The deadline trades of Michael Fulmer and Robbie Grossman have no effect on the payroll, as their contracts were expiring regardless.
Here are the players who are eligible for free agency after the 2022 season, not counting any who are eligible for arbitration and might be non tendered.
Tucker Barnhart - $7.5 M
Michael Pineda - $5.5 M
Robbie Grossman - $5.0 M
Michael Fulmer - $4.95 M
Wily Peralta - $2.5 M
Do you see any players on this list who must be resigned? Neither do I. We’d like to have Mike Fulmer back despite being traded, but the team has more pressing needs than the bullpen. Barnhart is a good veteran catcher with two gold gloves to his credit, but the organization is not short in the catching department with Eric Haase, Jake Rogers due back following his surgery, and a crop of young backstops in the minor leagues led by Dillon Dingler due to arrive in the next year or two.
Jacob Barnes and Dustin Garneau are two more players who earned just over $1.1 million each while in the major leagues, and have since moved on.
Now, here are eleven players who are eligible for arbitration, with their 2022 salaries and year of arbitration eligibility shown.
Candelario $5.8M: 3 of 3
Meadows $4.0M: 2 of 3
Cisnero $1.9M: 2 of 3
Jimenez $1.79M: 2 of 3
Reyes $1.4M: 2 of 3
H Castro $1.275M: 2 of 4
Hutchison $800K: 4 of 4
Soto $722K: 1 of 3
Alexander $717K: 1 of 3
Funkhouser $710K: 1 of 4
W Castro $700K: 1 of 3
R. Garcia $700K: 1 of 3
Total - $20.5M
2023 Estimate add $9- 10M
The club must decide whether to tender a contract to Jeimer Candelario, who earned $5.8 million in 2022 and is eligible for arbitration for the third and final time this winter. The third baseman has slumped badly both in the lineup and in the field, hitting just .202/ .265/ .326 to date with a wRC+ of just 77 and a net fWAR just at replacement level of 0.0.
Under normal circumstances, Candelario might be due for a salary of $7 to 8 million in his final season before being eligible for free agency. In a normal season, he might also be a prime trade candidate, but whatever value he had has been lost. So the club will have to see if he can find the form that he displayed in 2021, when he posted 123 wRC+ and led all Tigers’ hitters with 5.7 fWAR. He has heated up a bit recently, and will need to stay hot down the stretch in order to remain on the roster through the winter.
Should the team decide to move on from Candelario and not tender him a contract, or trade him for whatever they can get, they could save enough in payroll to offset all the other scheduled arbitration increases due this coming off season. But then, they’d need a third baseman. With internal options behind the plate and at first base, this could be one position where the team decides to upgrade the offense.
Only one other arbitration eligible Tiger earned more than $2 million in 2022, and that is the chronically injured Austin Meadows, who earned $4 million for the 2022 season. He is also one of the few who appears ready to put up at least major league average offensive production, so he should be back hoping for better health in 2023.
Only three players, Soto, Alexander, and Funkhouser, will be eligible for arbitration for the first time and are due modest pay increases. There may be another non tender in the group, resulting in modest savings.
A pair of Tigers have the ability to opt out of their contracts for the 2023 season and become free agents.
Andrew Chafin earns $5.5 million in 2022 and stands to earn $6.5 million in 2023, but it’s more likely that he decides to hit the market in search of a multi year contract following another strong season. The Tigers would do well to extend him.
Jonathan Schoop is signed for $7.5 million in the current season, and he has not lived up to that, but he can opt out. He leads the Tigers’ lineup in fWAR, with a pathetic 52 wRC+ at the plate, but leads the major leagues in outs above average defensively. Too bad there isn’t room for a designated fielder on the roster.
So the team will have a payroll that is some $25 million lighter, and that number could go up to $37.8 million if Candelario is non tendered and Chafin opts out, as they begin to add pieces for the 2023 campaign.
The departing free agents will leave some vacancies in the lineup. But then, the lineup is full of holes whether or not any players leave or return. The catcher position can be filled internally. The club could replace Candelario with Kody Clemens, or Ryan Kreidler who is playing well in Toledo, but the lineup needs at least two middle of the order bats just to be respectable, and more than that if they want to have any dream of pushing for a playoff spot. That will take additions from outside the organization, either by trade or free agency.
After the 2023 season, the Tigers have another $55 million coming off the payroll, due mainly to the expiring contract of Miguel Cabrera, as well as Schoop, Chafin and Candelario, if they’re back for 2023. Some of that money may be paid forward a year if those players opt out. This will leave more gaps on the roster to be filled, and more money to fill them.
The Tigers need to find a designated hitter, catcher, second baseman, third baseman, at least one outfielder, and some pitching help over the next two seasons. Based on 2022 performances, the lineup could use an upgrade at every single position, but they should have plenty of money to acquire players.
The team is counting on the development of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Green, at least, to provide them with some offensive punch. If those two don’t pan out, Tiger fans are in for a long drought before relevance returns to Comerica park. They need that, and a breakout or two among players such as Kreidler, Dingler, Workman, Campos, Clemens, Parker Meadows, etc. The organization has been woefully deficient in developing players to help the major league lineup. That can not continue.
On the pitching side, the team has plenty of bright young prospects who have just broken into the major leagues. They just need to get enough of them back healthy, and they should have a solid rotation to go with an already good bullpen. There are more arms in the pipeline, such as Ty Madden, Wilmer Flores, Reese Olson, and eventually Jackson Jobe. There is no shortage of pitching talent.
The Tigers will need to have their free agent additions producing a great deal more than Al Avila’s signings produced. And, they will need a number of trades to fill key needs in the lineup. Every successful team has those ingredients. If they’re not going to trade players of value, then PAY them for a change. The good news is that they should have enough money to support a contending roster in the American League’s central division if they spend it wisely. Starting now.