November 10th, 2009
The tight payroll the Tigers have to manage is the biggest challenge in their offseason dealings. That much was clear even before the report Tuesday night on Edwin Jackson. How they deal with it, and the difficult decisions it could prompt, will be a huge factor in how the Tigers look in 2010 and beyond, both with free agents and even with players under team control.
So yes, it could even force the Tigers to make a decision on Jackson, whose maturation as a pitcher this past season made him an All-Star before his second-half struggles left the Tigers trying to figure out what to make of the gifted young right-hander.
A report from FOXSports.com suggests the Tigers are at least listening to interest in Jackson, their No. 2 starter this past season and a 13-game winner. While there are no indications any deal is close, it’s at least a reflection of the choices the Tigers have to consider as the offseason unfolds, and what they might have to consider on Jackson regardless of finances.
Like staff ace and 19-game winner Justin Verlander, Jackson is eligible for arbitration and could qualify for free agency in two seasons. The Tigers are expected to talk with Verlander and his agent about a long-term contract this winter. Dombrowski hasn’t commented on that matter, but he said last month that they hope to keep Verlander in a Tigers uniform for a long time.
They’re both young, both coming off impressive seasons, and both in a position to get a hefty raise in arbitration. Several other Tigers are up for arbitration, too, including catcher Gerald Laird, utilityman Ramon Santiago and relievers Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Joel Zumaya.
Other Tigers under long-term deals will see their salaries rise next year. Magglio Ordonez’s $18 million option was the most publicized situation. Miguel Cabrera’s salary leaps from $15 million to $20 million. Carlos Guillen’s salary jumps from $10 million to $13 million. Nate Robertson goes from $7 million to $10 million. Curtis Granderson gets a $2 million raise to $5.5 million.
Dontrelle Willis’ salary, too, will rise, from $10 million to $12 million.
Those salaries add up to $75 million, with nearly $23 million more going to third baseman Brandon Inge and pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner. The Tigers have a slew of contracts expiring at season’s end to provide relief, but that doesn’t help them deal with payroll this year while Michigan’s economy suggests more tough times ahead.
“We’re all aware that the economy is not the same all over the country,” Dombrowski told FOXSports.com. “We’ve been hit hard in our area.”
Add in at least four free agents the Tigers must replace or re-sign — Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, Placido Polanco and Adam Everett — and the Tigers have a challenge.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers have to make a selloff. Owner Mike Ilitch’s desire to win in baseball is a great financial equalizer, and their willingness to even consider Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman suggests some ability to spend. But with the long-term contracts likely not going anywhere, simply keeping payroll steady could be a tough squeeze mathematically.
With Jackson, too, there’s the question of what to make of his 2009 season. Though he ranked seventh among AL starters with a 3.62 ERA and 214 innings, everyone who followed his season knows his first- and second-half difference. He entered the All-Star break with a 7-4 record and a 2.52 ERA, allowing just 94 hits over 121 2/3 innings with 97 strikeouts and averaging better than 6 2/3 innings per start.
Statistically, he went 6-5 after that, but gave up a 5.07 ERA. 106 hits and 17 home runs in 92 1/3 innings. Stuffwise, he lost movement in his slider and went predominantly to his fastball in some starts down the stretch. Tweaks in his side sessions between starts made a little difference, but didn’t turn things around.
It was his second straight year with a second-half dropoff after a strong turnaround in 2007, and it left some with a sense of befuddlement and disappointment. The Tigers have to decide what it means in the bigger picture. Even with the dropoff, his ability to eat innings was critical to Leyland’s management of the bullpen.
What can the Tigers get out of Jackson next year? What can the Tigers get for him? Difficult questions.
Yes, free agent reliever J.J. Putz confirmed, the Tigers would be a situation that interests him. But then, a lot of situations would interest him.
“I’d have interest in most teams, including the Tigers,” Putz wrote in an email to MLB.com Tuesday.
In other words, while a homecoming to Michigan might be a good fit for Putz, it wouldn’t be the only fit.
Both Putz and his agent, Craig Landis, said the Tigers have not contacted them. He technically didn’t become a free agent until this past weekend, after the Mets declined to pick up his option for next season. The Mets still hold exclusive negotiating rights with Putz until Nov. 20, though other clubs can call to express interest and talk in non-financial terms.
The intrigue surrounding Putz and Detroit stems from his Michigan upbringing, his college career at the University of Michigan, and the trade discussions the Tigers had with the Mariners last winter before Seattle sent him to the Mets in a three-team trade.
The Tigers moved on, signed Brandon Lyon later in the offseason, and went with Fernando Rodney as their closer out of Spring Training. Rodney and Lyon are both free agents.
The chance to close somewhere is definitely appealing, Putz said, though it isn’t the only situation he’d consider.
“I’d rather be a closer,” Putz wrote, “but I am open to setup jobs, depending on the fit.”
As for how he’s feeling after undergoing surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his throwing elbow, Putz was upbeat.
“My arm feels great! I’ve been throwing and rehabbing with no pain,” he wrote.
Polanco beat out defending Gold Glove winner Dustin Pedroia for the honor at second base, as voted on by Major League managers and coaches. He becomes the third Tigers infielder to win multiple Gold Gloves, joining the double-play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. The Gold Glove awards date back to 1957.
Though he couldn’t duplicate his errorless 2007 season, his error total fell from eight last year to two this past season. Working alongside shortstops Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago, plus with Brandon Inge back at third, Polanco helped turn a career-high 112 double plays. His .997 fielding percentage easily led all AL second basemen, while his 731 total chances and his Range Factor of 5.1 putouts plus assists per nine innings ranked near the top.
The more specialized fielding stats were more favorable on Polanco than one might expect for a middle infielder who turned 34 years old last month. While Polanco ranked lower among AL second basemen on zone rating, a statistic created by STATS Inc. to measure the rate of outs converted in a player’s defensive zone, his ultimate zone rating of 11.4 led all Major League second basemen.
Other Tigers fell short in their Gold Glove bids. Gerald Laird’s league-leading 42-percent rate of throwing out baserunners couldn’t earn him the nod at catcher over Minnesota’s Joe Mauer. Brandon Inge’s abundance of highlight plays couldn’t overshadow his error totals at third, where Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria captured his first Gold Glove. Curtis Granderson couldn’t crack the AL Gold Glove outfield mix of longtime standards Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki plus newcomer Adam Jones.
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)