What Massive Miguel Cabrera Extension Means for Max Scherzer, Tigers' Payroll

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers warms up in the on deck circle prior to batting in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Two of the Major League Baseball World Series at AT&T Park on October 25, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With Opening Day right around the corner, the Detroit Tigers have put one potential distraction for the upcoming season behind them, locking up superstar slugger Miguel Cabrera with a massive extension.

Fresh off of back-to-back AL MVP awards, the 30-year-old Cabrera has reportedly agreed to an eight-year, $248 million extension, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports:

Cabrera had two years and $44 million remaining on his current deal, an eight-year, $152.3 million extension he signed back in 2008, shortly after being traded to Detroit by the then Florida Marlins. The extension will be tacked onto those remaining years, via Morosi once again:

As the second tweet mentions, the new deal will keep Cabrera in Detroit through 2023 and what will be his age-40 season, as the Tigers are clearly in win-now mode and were willing to pay for his production now at the cost of a potential albatross deal in the second half of that extension.

The move certainly helps put into perspective what was a busy offseason for the Tigers. More than a few eyebrows were raised at the decision to trade a pair of key contributors in first baseman Prince Fielder and right-hander Doug Fister this winter.

The Tigers shipped out Prince Fielder this offseason with an eye on extending Cabrera and Scherzer.
The Tigers shipped out Prince Fielder this offseason with an eye on extending Cabrera and Scherzer.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When all was said and done in the Fielder deal, the team wound up saving $76 million over the next seven years. They also landed Ian Kinsler, who helps the team now, and could be off the books three years earlier than Fielder if his option year is not picked up.

Fister, meanwhile, received a raise from $4 million to $7.2 million in his second year of arbitration, and he could find himself in position for a $100 million-plus deal when he hits the open market after the 2015 season.

Those moves were made with a Cabrera extension in mind, but that was not the only reason for the team's cost-cutting moves this winter. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is set to hit free agency at the end of the upcoming season, and the team would obviously like to keep him in the fold as well.

Extension talks broke down between Scherzer and the team earlier this week, with the final offer from the Tigers reportedly matching the six-year, $144 million deal Cole Hamels received from the Phillies, according to a tweet from Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.

The Tigers have indicated they will not negotiate with Scherzer during the season, so it would appear the extension ship has sailed at this point, at least until next offseason. The team released the following statement after talks broke down:

The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that would have placed him among the highest paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected. As we have reiterated, it has been the organization’s intent to extend Max’s contract and keep him in a Tigers uniform well beyond the 2014 season. While this offer would have accomplished that, the ballclub’s focus remains on the start of the upcoming season, and competing for a World Championship. Moving forward there will be no further in-season negotiation and the organization will refrain from commenting on this matter.

As a Scott Boras client, the chances of getting Scherzer to agree to a deal heading into a contract year and with free agency on the horizon were slim to begin with.

The Tigers will now have to contend with the rest of the market if they hope to keep the 29-year-old right-hander, and he will no doubt be a hot commodity as the top arm available.

The deals signed this offseason by Clayton Kershaw (seven-year, $215 million) and an unproven commodity in Masahiro Tanaka (seven-year, $155 million, plus $20 million posting fee) only further prove that the market for pitching is climbing to record heights, and Scherzer will be looking to cash in as well.

Would the Tigers consider giving Scherzer more annually than they gave longtime ace Justin Verlander?
Would the Tigers consider giving Scherzer more annually than they gave longtime ace Justin Verlander?Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

It's not hard to imagine Scherzer topping that six-year, $144 million offer, but one has to think the Tigers won't go over the seven-year, $180 million deal they gave Justin Verlander. For as good as Scherzer was last year, Verlander has proven far more, and his deal was a record for pitchers at the time he signed it.

The question now becomes, will the Tigers be able to afford to lock up Scherzer with the other 29 teams in play to potentially drive up the market? To answer that, let's take a closer look at the team's payroll situation.

According to their MLBDepthCharts payroll page, the team's salary for the 2014 season projects to be roughly $157.5 million. That represents an all-time high for the team, eclipsing last year's mark of $148.7 million, via Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Looking beyond 2014, the team has six players currently under contract for the 2015 season, four each for the 2016 and 2017 season and just Cabrera and Verlander for 2018 and 2019.

Here is a full breakdown of their payroll commitments:

Detroit Tigers Salary Commitments for 2015 and Beyond
Justin Verlander$28 M$28 M$28 M$28 M$28 M
Miguel Cabrera$22 M~$31 M~$31 M~$31 M~$31 M
Anibal Sanchez$16.8 M$16.8 M$16.8 MOPT ($16 M)FA
Ian Kinsler$16 M$14 M$11 MOPT ($10 M)FA
Joe Nathan$10 MOPT ($10 M)FA
Rajai Davis$5 MFA
Deferred $$$None$6 M$6 M$6 M$6 M
Guaranteed Total$97.8 M$95.8 M$92.8 M$65 M$65 M

Let's say for the sake of argument the Tigers come up a bit and give Scherzer a six-year, $150 million deal next winter. That would put him at $25 million annually, just below the annual value of the deal Verlander signed. A reasonable price, especially if he is serious about wanting to stay in Detroit.

That would put the team's payroll commitments at $122.8 million next year, $120.8 million for 2016 and $117.8 million for 2017.

That is without taking into account the fact that guys like Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez are free agents at the end of the upcoming season and will need to be re-signed/replaced.

Add to that the trio of Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson and Alex Avila, who will all be due raises in arbitration next year before hitting free agency themselves following the 2015 season, and the Tigers will have far more to commit that just what is on the books now.

My main point here is, $120 million give or take is an awful lot of money to give to seven guys next year and then just five guys in 2015 and 2016.

We're talking a payroll pushing $200 million if they keep all of the aforementioned guys or replace them with comparable talents on the free-agent market. Can the Tigers afford to do that? The real question may be: Can they afford not to?

With the money they already have tied up in guys currently in their prime, their window to win a championship is right now, but it won't stay open forever. The farm system is relatively thin on impact talent, and in a few years from now, they could find themselves in a situation similar to what the Philadelphia Phillies are currently in.

Losing Scherzer at the end of this season would be a serious blow to their immediate title hopes, and anything short of a World Series win makes all of the money they have spent for naught.

According to a report last March from Crain's Detroit Business, the team is receiving $110 million annually between their local cable deal with Fox Sports Detroit and their share of national broadcast revenues, so they are by no means hurting for money.

The also ranked sixth in average attendance last year, according to ESPN, and as long as they keep winning, they should be right up there once again in 2014.

When it's all broken down like this, it's clear that the team had to move Fielder and Fister if they had any shot at extending both Cabrera and Scherzer.

After pulling the trigger on such big moves to free up the money, it's hard to imagine the Tigers letting Scherzer get away. It will just be a matter of seeing how far they are willing to expand the payroll next winter.


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