For 2020, our season preview for the Detroit Tigers will proceed, like a rebuilding project, in piecemeal fashion. The machines have completed their work, and it’s time for the humans to step to the plate.
The first subject I’d like to cover for this year is payroll. When a team is in deep rebuild mode, it’s almost pointless to spend time thinking about payroll. We know that rebuilding teams, essentially as a rule, are trying to shed payroll– usually with a focus on reducing a small number of large commitments to aging players– while gearing up for the next round of competitive action. This accounting-department aspect of baseball isn’t exciting, and it isn’t something even close observers monitor on a regular basis. Particularly with resetting teams, like the Tigers, that are very unlikely to add a high-priced free agent or sign a current player to a pricey extension, the payroll landscape changes only at a relatively glacial pace as years tick off old contracts.
Team payrolls are back in the news these days, though, thanks to the Boston Red Sox’s [Yeah, I don’t know either, man. -ed.] much-maligned decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However you cook it up or boil it down, Boston gave up two of its best players without receiving a commensurate return because the team wanted to cut payroll costs, apparently with the hope of creating the financial flexibility to maybe replace Betts or Price at an unspecified future time.
Detroit, on the other hand, has quite a bit of financial flexibility, and the team didn’t have to do anything to generate it but wait around. Safely assuming you haven’t checked in a while, how do the books look?
Barring drastic changes, the Tigers will open the season with a payroll of about $95 million, which places them on the high side of the bottom third of all teams this year. That’s a stark change from the days when Chris Ilitch’s father was holding the purse: Detroit had a top-five payroll as recently as 2017. In 2020, only two Tigers– Miguel Cabrera ($30 million) and Jordan Zimmermann ($25 million)– have salaries in the double-digit millions. Cabrera has three more seasons to go after this one, and he’s scheduled for a raise after next season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, is done (and maybe done done) after this year.
How quickly do things fall off after Cabrera and Zimmermann? Newcomers Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron and their matching one-year, $6.1 million contracts are next up. And if you thought that was a big drop, consider the fact that those four are, on an individual basis, the only players the Tigers are paying more in 2020 than Prince Fielder ($6 million).
Next in line is the only other notable mention in this conversation: Matthew Boyd ($5.3 million). The twenty-nine-year-old lefty probably is the team’s best player right now, and he still has two arbitration years remaining. Many people have said many things about whether the Tigers should trade or extend Boyd. The most-likely outcome probably is that they do neither and hope to avoid a repeat of the Michael Fulmer Experience.
What does this mean for you? Not much, really, except that we’re almost finished with our regimen of eating extra Little Caesars Hot-N-Readys to pay off the fun Prince Fielder days. Still worth it, in my opinion.
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