The next step in this series of looks at roster moves that face the Tigers is to look at the arbitration eligible players who don’t have the option of turning their team down. These are players with three or more years of service time (usually—it’s explained here ) who are still under team control, but get to negotiate their salary through arbitration.
The team offers and instead of having the option of saying no thanks and going off to find a multi-year deal, they simply have to counteroffer. They say what they think they’re worth, compare it to the team’s figures and either come to a middle ground or go to an arbitration hearing where one figure or the other is chosen.
It should be pointed out that Dave Dombrowski hasn’t gone to arbitration one time since he’s been with the Tigers. League wide, the vast majority of players come to an agreement with their team to avoid a hearing. That's understandable since it's not really in anybody's best interest to talk about why the players aren't valuable.
The Tigers have nine arbitration eligible players and they are Bobby Seay, Marcus Thames, Ramon Santiago, Matt Treanor, Gerald Laird, Edwin Jackson, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner. (Thanks to Eddie Bajek for making this part easy.)
Let’s just go right down the list, starting with Bobby Seay. He’s going into his third year of arbitration eligibility and he made $1.3 million last year. His season was pretty similar to what he did in 2008, so I’m going to assume most of his raise would come from the extra year of service.
There is—what I believe is—a pretty widely accepted metric for figuring out a player’s salary in their arbitration years and it’s simply a 40-60-80 system. The idea is in their first year of eligibility, they make approximately 40 percent of their free agent market value. In their second year of eligibility, it’s roughly 60 percent and...well, you see the trend.
If that’s accurate and we assume Bobby Seay’s value in 2009 held even from what it was in 2008, his salary should go up to about $1.7 million this year. I think that’s a pretty good deal for one of the Tigers’ more valuable relievers.
Next we come to Marcus Thames, who’s also in his third year of arbitration eligibility. The River made $2.275 million last year, so if we just assumed his performance stayed flat and he would just get the raise that came with the extra year of service he’d be bumped up to $3 million.
You can quibble with whether his performance stayed flat, but I don’t think you can really argue that the Tigers are not going to want to pay Marcus Thames $3 million. Their most important game of the season went into the 12th inning and had pinch hitters and pinch runners galore, yet they never used Thames.
They don’t trust him in left field, and that reduces his role to being the right-handed side of a platoon at designated hitter. You simply don’t pay $3 million for that role when you’re tight on funds. Marcus Thames is going to either be traded or non-tendered this offseason.
That brings us to Ramon Santiago. He’s a little puzzling to me because Cot’s Contracts shows him as having already avoided arbitration three times. Yet, I haven’t heard any mention of him being a free agent so I’m assuming he’s arbitration eligible.
Regardless, I think the Tigers will be able to bring him back for right around $1 million and I think they’ll do it. They know what they have in Santiago and they seem to appreciate it. He’ll also have a little extra perceived value as some insurance at second in case they decide to go with Scott Sizemore as the starter.
Next on the list is Matt Treanor, who serves no conceivable purpose on the roster when you have Gerald Laird, Alex Avila, and Dusty Ryan in the organization. That’s before you consider Treanor is an obvious injury risk. Treanor does, however, serve as a nice segue to Laird.
Laird is eligible for arbitration for the third time, too, and his salary in 2009 was $2.8 million. Based on the extra year and his value to the team, he’s probably going to get a raise into the $3.5 to $4 million territory.
I think the Tigers will pay that because I doubt they’re comfortable enough with the defense of either of their young catchers to let him walk. I expect he’ll see something closer to half the playing time for two reasons.
The Tigers will want to see more of what they have in Avila and they’ll hope the decreased workload will produce better results at the plate. That’s the end of the third year arbitration eligible players, and Edwin Jackson is the first of the second year eligibles.
Jackson made $2.2 million last year and that’s going to serve him well heading into this year. He added about two wins worth of value from what he did in 2008. Add that to the fact that his added year of service would usually mean a raise of about 50 percent—even with no improvement—and it’s pretty easy to expect a $5 million payday for Jackson.
The Tigers will pay that gladly for a solid number two or three starter, which is what Jackson’s season as a whole made him last year. It’s also going to be cheap when you compare it to what the Tigers can expect to pay Justin Verlander.
Verlander is heading into the offseason when the Tigers used to look to get a long term contract done to buy out some years of free agency. However, I’m not sure they would be wise to do that this season. Verlander is coming off one of the best seasons a Tiger pitcher has had since the days of Lolich and McLain.
A three year deal could cost them $50 million. I think they would be wise to give him his raise and make sure his arm can come back from the workload they gave him. Back up the Brinks truck next year when they have some more flexibility.
So what would one year cost them in arbitration? It’s hard to say, but $10 million wouldn’t surprise me. That’s probably less than half what the open market would pay him. I’d guess he’d come in somewhere between that and $12 million. It's a huge raise, but it's probably still a bargain.
Next, you have the other star rookie from the 2006 squad, Joel Zumaya. I was wondering if the Tigers would tire of his injury problems this year, but Dombrowski’s quotes about him certainly don’t seem like that’s the case. It sounds like they expect him to be healthy and it also sounds like they are really counting on him for some high leverage innings.
He made $735,000 last year and since his playing time has been so scarce the last couple years, it’s hard to guess what they’ll settle on for his 2010 salary. Just to keep it simple, let’s say the agree to give him $1 million.
At the end, we have the swingman, Zach Miner. He’s in his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he’s not going to make a ton. His long relief and part time starter role keeps him from racking up valuable stats so I would expect him to get something between $750,000 and $1 million, and he should be well worth it as a decent long reliever and a spot starter.
So there you have it. I honestly had expected this to be a little harder before I actually sat down to look at the players.
I thought there would be more non-tender candidates as the Tigers looked for ways to try to free up money for their holes. Who knows? It could still happen.
Maybe they decide $4 million is too much to pay for a half the time catcher. Maybe they look at Brent Dlugach and Ramon Santiago side by side and figure there’s no reason to pay $600,000 more for one of them.
Actually, the thing I expect to get wrong is all these guys getting one year deals. I’d be a little surprised if Dombrowski didn’t try to lock a single one of them up for at least a couple years.
I’m not trying to guess who it will be, though, as I don't really expect it to effect the team too much in 2010. Of course, I’m right about one out of four times when it comes to guessing what the Tigers will do.
If this is one of those times, the Tigers will be tying up something like $23 to $25 million on the seven arbitration eligible players they bring back. They’d thank Thames and Treanor for their time and have a 2010 payroll pushing $125 million before they signed a single free agent.
In my next and final post of this series, I’ll look at where the roster decisions as I’ve predicted will leave them in terms of roster construction.