Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Taking a look at the Detroit Tigers payroll past 2014

In an attempt to understand last week's headline stealing acquisition of David Price I am going to analyze the trade from all aspects.

We start with the financial side.

Before we get to all of that lets start with a couple of basic assumptions:

1. It is good to have an elite left handed pitcher in the starting rotation and this is not about what Price can do from the pitching mound. Let us also factor in the potential improvement and positive effect he can have on the 4 other starting pitchers in 2014.

2. It is the job of the General Manager to balance out the need to win now with the needs of this team in the future.

With that being said...let us take a look at the 2015 payroll for our Detroit Tigers:

Six players are under contract for 2015 currently- Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Nathan, and Rajai Davis.

These players will make a combined 96 million dollars in 2015.

Two more players have club options for 2015- Joakim Soria and Alex Avila. If the Tigers pick up said options they total 12.4 million bringing the 2015 Tigers committed payroll to 107.4 for 8 players.

The payroll for the Tigers in 2014 was right around 167 million dollars. Over the last few years the ownership has increased the spending by about 15 million dollars a season. That would give the Tigers a theoretical budget of 182 dollars in 2015. If we take away the 96 million already spent they would have 86 million to spend on the 19 players they will need to fill out the big league roster. If they pick up their two options that would leave them 73.6 million to fill out their roster.

As I said the Tigers have upped their payroll on average of 15 million dollars over the last few seasons. If that average holds the extra 15 million would be needed (at least) to resign Price. Leaving the Tigers 58.6 million dollars to sign 16 players.

Now I want to add another assumption here. Dave Dombrowksi traded Prince Fielder's contract because it ate up too many payroll dollars and made the offense too top heavy. If that is true has he not created the same problem with the starting rotation? Trading away affordable talent like Doug Fister  and Drew Smyly paints him into a corner where he will spend 44 million dollars on two starting pitchers in 2015 (Verlander and Sanchez). Price will cost this team at least 15 million in 2015 and it's more likely to be close to 18. Even if being in his last year of arbitration eligibility depresses his value to 16 that would mean the Tigers will spend 60 million dollars on three starters. Rick Porcello will be due another big raise in his final year of arbitration and after dealing away Smyly who will be the fifth starter? Robbie Ray? Or does this team commit more payroll dollars to the starting rotation by signing yet another high priced free agent? Porcello makes 8.5 million this year and is due another raise bringing his total to at least 10 million. That is 70 million spent on the rotation without a fifth starter.

Now let's take a look at the supporting cast which includes Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jose Igelsias, Andy Dirks, Joel Haranhan, Don Kelly, Al Alburqueque, JD Martinez, Luke Putkonen, Bruce Rondon, Ian Krol, Andrew Romine, Bryan Holaday, Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, and Ezequiel Carrera. The Good news here is that these role players cost the Tigers around 20 million in payroll for 2014.

If we do a little math (the 96 million already committed to the six players mention above + 12.4 million dollars in contract options + let's say 25 million for role players) we can theorize the Tigers have 133 million payroll dollars committed for 2015. Which would leave 48.6 million dollars to spend. Again that is without Scherzer or Price. Since both are unlikely to sign lets count 16 million for at least one of them. Leaving the Tigers 32.6 million for upgrades. When we take off another 10 million for Porcello  that figure drops to 22.6.

The two big name Tigers free agents after this year will be Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. I would not expect the Tigers to resign both men, and based on performance it would seem Victor has earned another deal with the club. I would expect him to fetch at least 10 million or so for 2015.

Let us also assume that Nathan and Soria both will not remain with the team past 2014. That opens up another 7-10 million dollars. For our purposes lets say that one of those two players pays for Victor. Bringing us back to 22.6 million in available payroll for 2015. that seems like more than enough to add a few pieces to the roster for 2015. Granted we have made a lot of assumptions. The game changer in all of this is how far the Tigers go in the 2014 post season.  Along with the health and decision making process of aging owner Mike Illitch who may decide to go all in in 2015, we have seen him do that before.

What these payroll queses (for lack of a better word) lead us to conclude is that in theory the Tigers could afford to resign Scherzer and Price but that seems very unlikely. It seems more likely they will resign Price and rely on Ray being the fifth starter. Or spend some of the 22.6 million on a veteran fifth starter.

Baseball payrolls are all about finding balance. Trading for Price cost the team a lot, and the biggest cost in the short term is a left handed reliever (Smyly) in the 2014 post season and longer term an affordable pretty good left handed starter. Trading away the Austin Jackson and his ever rising cost is balanced out by the performance of Carerra in the present and the return of Andy Dirks at some point this season. Along with Davis playing a majority of the time.

In the end the Price trade goes a long way to extending the window of the Tigers being World Series contenders to 2015 (even without Scherzer). We will have to wait to see how the rest of it all plays out and then ask the question if the Tigers are good enough as presently constructed to win a title. As it stands right now in August of 2014 I would say they are good enough to make it interesting.

While I have made a few some what educated guesses about the Tigers payroll going forward, what I do know is at some point this payroll bubble will collapse. My guess is that begins to happen in 2016 and I wonder how many Tiger fans are willing to trade a potential title in the net two years if the collapse brings a return of the early 1990's early 2000 Tigers or the current Philadelphia Phillies.