As of Opening Day this year, the Tigers will have the following nine figure contracts on the roster:
Cabrera – 8 Years, $248M ends 2023
Verlander – 7 Years, $180M ends 2019
Upton – 6 Years, $132.75M ends 2021
Zimmerman – 5 Years, $110M ends 2020
The last two were added this offseason, making Detroit only the second team in MLB history to sign two hundred million dollar contracts in the same offseason (Yankees have done it twice).
The Cabrera contract guarantees another Tiger’s hat is showcased in Cooperstown.
The Verlander contract looked like a disaster until the second half of last season. We will see how he responds after his first year spending any time on the disabled list. Everyone is hoping for the best and I see no reason you cannot expect at least two of those seven years to be worthwhile.
Upton and Zimmerman I have never talked about before.
In my offseason preview I talked about the need for a starting pitcher and an outfielder. I speculated that they would spend around $30M a year filling those spots. I didn’t think they would spend $242.75M filling those two spots.
They upgraded the bullpen, and I still think they need another arm out there.
They upgraded the bench and I don’t like anything they did there, I will dig into that next week.
They decided they need a front of the rotation starter instead of a 3 and they went out and got not only that upgrade but another. I like the rotation, and if Verlander can produce like last half of last season and Sanchez can stay healthy, they have a World Series rotation. Also, they are deep. They can run out an addition 3 arms to spot start, and they will need them.
The last hole was left field. It looked like they were content to start Collins out there and have Maybin fill in when needed. It looks now that they were not only not happy with that, but decided the only reasonably upgrade was to grab one of the three best available players.
The Justin Upton can be analyzed a number of ways:
Was this money always in the budget and they were sitting on it or did Illitch pull another Fielder move? If it was always in the budget then why didn’t they spend more on the bullpen or rotation?
Doesn’t the Zimmerman and Upton signing simply get them back to what they had last Opening Day with Price and Cespedes? Is the improved bullpen enough to take these guys from 70 odd wins to 90 odd wins ( I realize they probably would’ve finished in the 80 wins had they not traded everyone away, but still, a 10 win improvement)?
Speaking of Cespedes, why Upton over Cespedes? Especially since Cespedes got almost half the contract (more on this later)?
If they wanted to go after a big name outfield free agent, then why get Maybin (more on this next week)?
Where is the extension for the younger, better, and cheaper player, JD Martinez (more on this in a couple weeks)?
But here is my take, I love the signings. Zimmerman is a no brainer. He pitches like a 1, always makes 30+ starts with 200 innings and is a beast. There isn’t much analysis that needs to go into this. I really like Justin Upton as a player (I’ll break down some of his game in a bit), but mostly I really like that the Tigers are still willing to spend so much money. I think Illitch might be crazy, but I like it.
I don’t think this kind of money was always in the budget, but I do think they knew they had more money to spend if they wanted to. Upton’s price didn’t really drop at all, so I don’t know why they waited, but I think they wanted Cespedes back and then pulled the trigger on Upton when it wasn’t panning out.
So what happened with Cespedes? Who is the better player? Well, I have no idea. Every report says the Tigers enjoyed him here, they wanted him back, he was in their price range (eventually signing a 3 year $75M pact with the Mets). The better player is hard to say. Upton has more power, runs the bases better, and it much tougher on righties. Cespedes is very close in all of those aspects and he is remarkably the better defender. However, Upton has only spent one year in Left Field, and his number were good there, so maybe that isn’t as big of a gap as it might appear.
Both players are streaky hitters, Upton moreso than Cespedes. I can easily see Detroit fans hating Upton very quickly. Last year he went two consecutive months with a sub-.200 batting average. Kinlser had a bad stretch last year too, over a month, and people got all over him. No one seemed to notice, or care, that he was in the middle of one of his very best seasons as a professional ball player. This town doesn’t often take the longview.
Upton has never had much protection and has always batted in the middle of the order. That won’t be the case in Detroit, he will bat either 2nd or 6th here (projected lineup to come) in a very deep lineup where he will not be expected to be the man. Hopefully he excels in that situation.
The better contract appears to be Cespedes’, since it is half the size. However, both contracts feature similar average annual values and both have opt-out clauses early in the contract. So maybe in the end the contracts are about the same.
The Opt-Out clause. I hate this part. These things are never good for teams. Here is how this works: if he is good for the first two years in Detroit, then he opts out and the team needs to find another, probably more expensive player. If he is terrible, then he will stay in his contract when the team no longer wants him, great. The only good news is that if he is good but not great, like not matching his contract but still valuable, he becomes a trade chip early or might opt-out anyway for a longer term deal and a change of scenery.
So this is how I would set up my roster:
Lineup This is what you will probably see
- Kinsler 2B 1. Kinsler/ Gose/ Maybin/ Iglesias
- Upton LF 2. Kinsler/ Iglesias
- Cabrera 1B 3. Cabrera
- V Martinez DH 4. Victor
- JD Martinez 5. JD
- Castellanos 3B 6. Upton
- McCann C 7. Castellanos
- Gose Cf 8. McCann
- Iglesias SS 9. Gose
Why would I put Upton second? Well he has the highest career OBP on the team not named Cabrera or Martinez. I like power in the 2-hole, most analysis shows it can generate an extra coupe wins a season. He runs the bases well and will have the chance to score a lot of runs. There is motivation to produce but not a ton of pressure.
Why won’t the Tigers bat him second? Because they seem to favor speed on the top of the order over power.
In the next couple of weeks I will get into the bullpen and the bench, as well as holes still visible in the roster.
Go out and enjoy an owner willing to not only pay huge salaries but also huge taxes on those huge salaries.
Oh, one last word about the luxury tax. It currently sits at 15% of all salaries over $189M, but a new collective bargaining agreement will be made next offseason and the assumption is that the threshold will move up to $200M. I think Illitch is willing to pay some taxes this year, but try to stay under that (or at least pay a lot less in taxes) for next. But who knows, we will see!