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Tigers’ payroll likely to increase again in 2013

Despite the loss of Delmon Young and Jose Valverde through free agency, the Detroit Tigers figure to have a higher payroll on opening day, 2013, than they did the previous season.

Anibal Sanchez will be a priority for the Tigers this off season
Anibal Sanchez will be a priority for the Tigers this off season
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Delmon Young is gone. Jose Valverde is gone. Gerald Laird will test the waters of free agency once again. The Tigers will try to sign Anibal Sanchez, who pitched so brilliantly for them in the post season in 2012.

The Tigers had a team payroll of $ 133,475,000 in 2012 according to Cot’s Contracts

That number does not include the salaries of Omar Infante ($ 4 million) or Anibal Sanchez ($ 8 million) which bumped the bottom line up another six million dollars for half a season. Infante is under contract for 2013, but Sanchez is a free agent. Whether the Tigers can sign their newest pitcher to a long term contract will be the biggest factor in determining exactly how high the 2013 payroll will go.

So let’s do the math. The Tigers have nine players under contract for a total of $ 98.2 million.

Detroit Tigers, players under contract for 2013 season

Player 2013 Salary
Prince Fielder $ 23.0 million
Miguel Cabrera $ 21.0 million
Justin Verlander $ 20.1 million
Victor Martinez $ 13.0 million
Joaquin Benoit $ 5.5 million
Omar Infante $ 4.0 million
Ramon Santiago $ 2.1 million
Jhonny Peralta $ 6.0 million
Octavio Dotel $ 3.5 million
Total $ 98.2 million

Detroit will be shedding $ 16.75 million in salaries paid to departing free agents Valverde, Young, and Gerald Laird. That does not include Sanchez’s salary.

However, the club has another eight players who are eligible for arbitration. I would roughly estimate, without any detailed analysis, that their total salaries will be $ 25.6 million. That’s more than double what the same players earned in 2012.

Detroit Tigers Arbitration Eligible Players

Player 2012 Salary 2013 Estimate
Max Scherzer $ 3.75 million $ 6.0 million
Rick Porcello $ 3.1 million $ 5.0 million
Austin Jackson $ 500,000 $ 3.25 million
Alex Avila $ 510,000 $ 2.75 million
Doug Fister $ 507,500 $ 2.9 million
Ryan Raburn $ 2.1 million $ 2.5 million
Phil Coke $ 1.0 million $ 2.0 million
Brennan Boesch $ 502,500 $ 1.2 million
Total $ 11.97 million $ 25.6 million

This brings the subtotal for 17 players to $ 123.8 million. Even if the Tigers replaced Valverde, Young, Sanchez, and Laird from within the organization, they would need another eight players earning around the major league minimum, about $ 500,000, bringing the total payroll to $ 127.8 million.

Now, if we know anything about Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski, it is that they are determined to win, and win now. So, this team will not be replacing veteran players with unproven rookies. They’ve made it known that they will pursue a contract extension with Sanchez. That could cost between $ 12.5 to $ 15 million per season for four to six years.

They are also likely to add a corner outfielder, either through free agency or via the trade route, and that will add more salary. Chances are they will either come to terms with Gerald Laird, giving him a salary increase, or sign a veteran replacement to share time behind the plate with Alex Avila.

And when is the last time Dave Dombrowski began the season with an inexperienced closer? The track record suggests that, even when he was not signing any players to multi year contracts for a three year period, Dombrowski always made the closer a priority, and he got one through the free agent market. Ugueth Urbina, Troy Percival, Todd Jones (twice), Brandon Lyon, and Jose Valverde were all free agents signed to close games for the Tigers.

If the Tigers do extend Sanchez, it seems likely that they could trade Rick Porcello or another starting pitcher. That, plus removing Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn from the payroll could save the club another eight or nine million dollars, as a partial offset.

The bottom line is that the spending trend is not likely to be halted this winter. Not now, when the team is so close to achieving Mike Ilitch’s dream of a world championship. The team was profitable in 2011, according to Forbes. More to the point, this is an organization bent on winning, and money will not be the obstacle that prevents them from doing so.