DETROIT -- As a relatively quiet offseason nears an end, the Tigers are about to add to their payroll without adding any players. With arbitration season about to begin, their streak of avoiding an arbitration hearing is about to get another test.The Tigers haven't faced an arbitration ruling on a
DETROIT -- As a relatively quiet offseason nears an end, the Tigers are about to add to their payroll without adding any players. With arbitration season about to begin, their streak of avoiding an arbitration hearing is about to get another test.
The Tigers haven't faced an arbitration ruling on a player since 2001, a streak that general manager Al Avila's predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, carried through his 14-year tenure. That streak appeared to be in serious jeopardy last offseason until the Tigers and J.D. Martinez reached agreement on a two-year contract just days before a scheduled hearing.
Much of the work behind the streak has come from Tigers baseball legal counsel John Westhoff, part of Dombrowski's core front-office group who stayed on with Avila to become assistant GM.
This year, the Tigers have a half-dozen potential arbitration cases to resolve. Shortstop Jose Iglesias, reliever Justin Wilson and superutility player Andrew Romine are holdovers from last year. Third baseman Nick Castellanos and relievers Bruce Rondon and Alex Wilson are eligible for the first time.
Eligible players and teams are scheduled to submit salary numbers on Friday. For some, this has traditionally served as a soft deadline for teams and players to reach an agreement. For others, exchanging numbers provides a working range from which the two sides can find common ground and compromise, rather than risk the entire difference on a ruling for one side or the other. Detroit has traditionally been open to negotiate after exchanging numbers.
MLB Trade Rumors, which annually publishes arbitration projections based on player performances and past cases, forecasts Iglesias at a $3.2 million salary for 2017 (up from $2.1 million last year), Castellanos at $2.8 million, Justin Wilson at $2.7 million (up from $1,525,000), Romine and Alex Wilson at $1.2 million and Rondon at $900,000.
Unlike last year, it's unclear at this point how inclined the Tigers would be toward multiyear deals. In the immediate term, the team is trying to temper a payroll that is on track to cost Detroit in luxury tax for a second straight season. In the long term, Avila has made it clear he's looking for a younger, leaner roster.
Castellanos turns 25 in March, while Rondon celebrated his 26th birthday last month. It's easy to see them fitting into Detroit's long-term plans, especially with Castellanos coming off a 106-point boost in his OPS in 2016. Iglesias, who turned 27 last week, and Justin Wilson, 29, have been enveloped in trade rumors since last month's Winter Meetings. Alex Wilson and Romine are 30 and 31, respectively.
The final numbers will have a significant impact on the Tigers' payroll -- now, at the non-waiver Trade Deadline and at year's end, when the luxury tax comes due. It's why this is a quietly important point in Detroit's offseason.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.