I've spent several thousand words discussing roster moves the Tigers are faced with in terms of free agents and arbitration eligible players. What follows is a roster comprised of the remaining players with their salaries (according to my previous posts).
Gerald Laird, C, $4M
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, $20M
Scott Sizemore, 2B, $0.4M
Brandon Inge, 3B, $6.6M
Adam Everett, SS, $1.5M
Carlos Guillen, LF, $13M
Curtis Granderson, CF, $5.5M
Magglio Ordonez, RF, $18M
Alex Avila, C, $0.4M
Ramon Santiago, IF, $1M
Ryan Raburn, UT, $0.45M
Justin Verlander, RHP, $11M
Edwin Jackson, RHP, $5M
Rick Porcello, RHP, $1.025M
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, $12.5M
Nate Robertson, LHP, $10M
Bobby Seay, LHP, $1.7M
Joel Zumaya, RHP, $1M
Zach Miner, RHP, $0.8M
Fu-Te Ni, LHP, $0.4M
Ryan Perry, RHP, $0.4
Don't expect on the roster - Dontrelle Willis $12M
There you have it. It's certainly not pretty. You can take issue with what I have predicted as the likely results of the arbitration hearings. You might disagree with some of the players I have predicted the Tigers will let go and which ones they will retain.
However, most of the guesses on roster decisions I made came with the goal of limiting payroll. As for the arbitration guesses, the only ones where I'm going to be off by more than $1 million one way or the other are probably Laird, Jackson and Verlander. If you're optimistic, go ahead and knock off a couple million bucks. That will cover the $1.6 million the four open spots will cost if they are given to players making the league minimum.
How many people still believe the Tigers risk offering arbitration to Placido Polanco or Brandon Lyon? Either one of those players accepting pushes them over $130 million and doesn't really further the roster in terms of whatever you might perceive as a weakness.
Again, I don't mean to presume this is the only way they could go. As I said in my previous post, it would be a little surprising if the Tigers didn't offer a two or more year deal to any of their nine arbitration eligible players. Maybe they can trim some money off the 2010 payroll by giving a player an extended contract.
I also concede that I haven't even mentioned possible trades, which has been Dave Dombrowski's preferred way of addressing team needs the past few years. Then again, a trade is more likely to address on the field weaknesses than to alleviate any salary issues. A trade that significantly reduces payroll is going to be unlikely to address roster needs because it would have to be a salary dump of guys like Nate Robertson or Carlos Guillen.
So let's move forward with two assumptions. First, this the ballpark of the Tigers' 2010 payroll. Second, the Tigers aren't going to be willing to expand their payroll much beyond this.
Now that we've made those assumptions, let's move beyond the ugly money concerns. What do the Tigers need and what can they do internally?
The players I assigned to the roster leave two bench spots open and two spots in the bullpen. If you want to stick Robertson in the bullpen and say they need an upgrade in the rotation, that's fine. Just remember it's probably going to have to be a relatively cheap deal. I don't think they're calling John Lackey.
Either way, I think you can make the argument two spots on the pitching staff are in play. If you don't concede Robertson gets a spot in the rotation, internal candidates include Armando Galarraga, Dontrelle Willis, Alfredo Figaro, and Eddie Bonine.
It's important to consider that if neither Robertson or Willis are in the rotation, they either fill one of those bullpen spots or get released. I have no idea if the Tigers have the will to do that.
Getting back to the talent side of things, I'm not sure any of the alternatives presenting themselves in the organization offer a huge upgrade. I think if they view Robertson as the equivalent of Bonine, Galarraga or Figaro in terms of talent, they'll go with the lefty to avoid a rotation full of right-handed starters.
That would take us back to having two spots in the bullpen open. If they keep it in the system, Casey Fien, Alfredo Figaro, Eddie Bonine, Cody Satterwhite, Zach Simons, Freddy Dolsi, and Robbie Weinhardt all seem like possible candidates. Would the Tigers feel comfortable with filling out the rotation with that talent? I think it's possible.
They seem to believe Zumaya is going to be healthy and if he is I wouldn't be surprised if they made him the closer. Of course, as soon as he goes down prepare yourself for the calls to nuke the farm system to go get Joakim Soria or some other established closer on a crappy team.
If Zumaya's closing, you have could have Perry and Seay as setup men. One of the newcomers could earn Leyland's trust enough to take some late innings as well.
If the Tigers don't have the stomach for that kind of risk in the late innings, it seems possible they could look to fill the spot through free agency. If they're going to do that, they need to look for guys they could see handling the high pressure situations.
The problem is that guy is going to be expensive if he's already shown he can do that. They may need to track down a converted starter or a non-tendered player.
It could be a player who doesn't have the obvious swing and miss skills you expect in that role, but could be used in a way that minimizes the risk of that skillset. Use him like they did Todd Jones (one inning, no men on base), for example.
I know that sounds risky, too, but Kerry Wood, Brad Lidge and Brian Fuentes all showed this year that past success in role guarantees nothing going forward.
If I had to guess, I'd put my money on the Tigers using one internal candidate and one outsider who they can get for less than $2 million. I think they will be creative, and I think there are going to be a lot of complaints about how they didn't make up for the loss of both Rodney and Lyon.
They are pretty well set at catcher and with Raburn and Santiago on the bench, I think they have the ability to back up the entire infield in a pinch. Their lineup or infield—or both—would be exposed pretty badly, however, if they had to sub in Raburn or Santiago at the corners for any length of time.
Combine that with the need for somebody with the bat to be a designated hitter and I wouldn't be surprised if they looked for somebody with a big bat who could be the primary backup at the corner infield spots. I'd love it if Jeff Larish could be that player, but I'm not so sure. I wonder what Russell Branyan would cost. Too much, I'm sure.
Finally, we come to the final spot, the reserve outfielder. This is the spot I think is likelier to be filled internally. They need somebody who offers good defense on the days Guillen and Ordonez are either resting or tabbed as the DH.
Ideally, this player should also not be totally out of his element when backing up Curtis Granderson. Clete Thomas and Casper Wells probably fit this role best. Wilkin Ramirez is a candidate if the Tigers are comfortable with Raburn in center.
Who gets it? I'd expect Clete Thomas to be the front runner simply because they know what they have in him and roster inertia is a powerful force. Wells could be a nice fit since he bats right-handed and could fill in for Granderson if he doesn't figure out how to deal with tough lefties during the offseason. Ramirez has the most offensive potential, maybe even enough to DH, but would leave the Tigers with just one good defensive outfielder.
I think another distinct possibility is their filling both spots with outfielders. Like I said, they have emergency backups for all the infielders and if a long-term solution is needed at the corners, they could always dig down into Toledo and grab somebody like Brent Dlugach or Mike Hollimon (if he's healthy and in the organization next season).
What will they do?
There it is. That's a pretty exhaustive look at what the Tigers have before them this offseason. It's pretty easy to see why Dombrowski said they were going to have to look internally and get creative when filling out the roster. I apologize for not taking the plunge on a suggestion for a big splash type move, but it's particularly difficult to see where that would come from this year.
For the past three offseasons, though, the big surprise has come. What looks like a rigid roster situation is what sets up the shocker. It's nearly impossible to know who they're willing to part with, who they want and what Ilitch is willing to finance.
If a shocker comes, I think it will be in the form of a shortstop, a bat good enough to handle at least half the games at DH or a clear upgrade in the rotation. I don't see the Tigers sticking their necks out for a reliever. Of course, I always say the Tigers don't think like I do. That's why I spend the whole offseason worrying about which of my favorite prospects is going to be shipped away.