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Tigers able to avoid arbitration with six players

DETROIT -- The Tigers took a major chunk out of their largest arbitration class of the decade on Friday, signing six players to one-year contracts just ahead of the deadline for exchanging salary proposals.

They'll face one negotiation as they try to maintain their perfect record of avoiding arbitration hearings since Dave Dombrowski took over as general manager in 2002.

Catcher Alex Avila, outfielders Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson, left-hander Phil Coke and right-handers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello all agreed to terms on one-year deals. Avila will make $2.95 million, Boesch will make $2.3 million, Coke will receive $1.85 million, Jackson will make $3.5 million, Fister will get $4 million, and Porcello will receive $5.1 million.

The only arbitration-eligible player who has yet to sign is right-hander Max Scherzer. He is eligible for the second time.

Avila, Boesch, Jackson and Fister were eligible for arbitration for the first time, having reached the requisite three years of service time. Porcello, a second-time arbitration-eligible, gets a $2 million raise from last season. Coke, also eligible for the second consecutive year, receives a $750,000 raise from his 2012 salary.

The six deals add up to about $19.65 million. Compared with the salaries those players made last year, their raises will mean a $13.43 million bump to Detroit's payroll.

Scherzer's salary, whenever it's settled, will add to that total. As a second-year arbitration-eligible coming off a 16-7 record with a 3.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts, he was expected to be the most expensive case the Tigers faced coming in.

Both Scherzer and the Tigers submitted proposed figures on Friday -- Scherzer asking for $7.4 million, the Tigers offering $6.05 million. The two sides will have a couple weeks to negotiate before hearings for players begin on Feb. 7. Sometimes, the exchange of numbers helps teams and agents find a middle ground where they can agree. An arbitrator can't determine a compromise figure; he must select one proposal or the other.

Like Jackson and Boesch, Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, though that doesn't make an arbitration case any more likely than with another agent. In fact, the Tigers have had pretty good success settling cases with Boras' clients before going to arbitration.

Players who are eligible for arbitration for the first time have their cases judged based on their career to date, not just the past season. That was a key point in the cases of all four first-time eligible Tigers, each playing a role of some sort on a team with back-to-back American League Central titles and consecutive deep runs in the postseason.

Avila was the American League's starting catcher in the All-Star Game in 2011 before falling off offensively last season. He hit .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs in 2011, then .243 with nine home runs and 48 RBIs in 25 fewer games last year, good for a 159-point drop in his OPS. He'll turn 26 later this month, and the Tigers would gladly take some sort of offense in between the extremes.

Jackson, who turns 26 on Feb. 1, has had two strong offensive years in his three seasons in the Majors, capped by career bests in 2012 with a .300 average, 16 home runs, 66 RBIs and an .856 OPS. He has led the AL in triples in each of the last two seasons. All the while, Jackson's defense has earned him recognition among the better defensive center fielders in the game today.

Fister is 18-11 with a 2.95 ERA over the last season-and-a-half since coming over from Seattle in a 2011 deadline deal. He battled through injuries to salvage a 10-10 record this season that didn't reflect his 3.45 ERA or his average of six innings per start.

Coke had an up-and-down 2012 campaign with a 2-3 record and a 4.00 ERA, giving up 71 hits over 54 innings with 18 walks and 51 strikeouts. His postseason performance, however, played a huge role in the Tigers' sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, taking over at closer after Jose Valverde struggled in back-to-back outings.

Both Porcello and Boesch have been rumored as potential trade targets this offseason after offseason signings created a surplus of starters and outfielders. Neither player's deal precludes them from being dealt. All it means is that their salaries are now set.

Porcello went 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 2012, allowing 226 hits over 176 1/3 innings with a 44 walks and 107 strikeouts. His strength was in his secondary statistics, including a career-best Fielder Independent Pitching equivalent of a 3.91 ERA.

Porcello, who turned 24 last week, has attracted interest from other clubs ever since the Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez in mid-December. Barring a trade, Porcello is expected to beat out Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the Tigers' rotation.

Boesch, by contrast, is looking like a hitter without a role after Torii Hunter's arrival as a free agent in November. After averaging 15 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .768 OPS over his first two seasons, the 27-year-old struggled to a .240 average, 12 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .659 OPS in 2012. He was eventually benched in mid-September in favor of rookies Quintin Berry and Avisail Garcia.

Detroit Tigers, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Phil Coke, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson, Rick Porcello