How to fit Verlander and Cabrera on same payroll

verlander10.jpgFor all of you who emailed the inbox asking which big-name free agents the Tigers could pursue next winter after losing so much payroll in expiring contracts, there’s the Lee Corso line: Not so fast, my friend.

Assuming the report becomes official Thursday or Friday and Justin Verlander gets his contract extension at somewhere around five years and $80 million, the Tigers will have accomplished the monumental task of keeping their ace for the long term. That’s the good news. Their next challenge will be how to manage their roster around it.

If the $80 million figure is correct, assume that around $60 million will be laid out in the final three years from 2012-14, the free-agent years that the Tigers will have bought out. The first two years will be far less because they’re buying out arbitration years. Add that configuration to the Tigers payroll, and in those final three years, Verlander would be the second Tiger making $20 million or more per year, joining Miguel Cabrera. His contract hits the $20 million salary this year and stays there the next, followed by two years at $21 million and 2014-15 at $22 million each.

Just three teams are currently on track to have two players making $20 million a year at the same time: The Yankees have four (of course), the Mets two (Beltran and Santana), and the Phillies will have two of them in 2011, when the salaries on Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay both pick up. The Cardinals will come close if they sign Albert Pujols long term to go with Matt Holliday’s contract at $17 million per year. The Cubs come really close with Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano both making around $19 million this year and two seasons after that.

Once the Cardinals re-signed Holliday this winter, the big question that followed was whether they could afford to keep him and Pujols long term and still field a contending team around them. That’s in St. Louis, where the payroll hasn’t doesn’t top $100 million. The Tigers have topped $100 million the last two years, and it’s looking like their payroll could actually be higher this season than it was in 2009, despite trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson and letting their free agents go. You’d have to not count Gary Sheffield’s salary from last year to get to that high total, but still, you get the idea.

cabrera2.jpgDave Dombrowski didn’t talk about slashing payroll this offseason, insisted they weren’t gutting, but he talked about making adjustments given the realities of this economy. Here was surely one adjustment, making room for Verlander’s salary this year. In the context of the economy, and the idea that Michigan will take longer to recover than other areas, finding a way to field a contending team while supporting the salaries of Verlander and Cabrera isn’t as easy as finding free agents willing to play for a contender.

There was a line of thought not long ago that a team cannot win if one player takes up more than 15 percent of payroll. Assuming the numbers above, Verlander and Cabrera could combine to make anywhere from $40 to $45 million from 2012-14. Even if the Tigers hold payroll around $120 million per year, Verlander and Cabrera would take up at least a third of that.

The Tigers have two choices: They can either look to trade Cabrera at some point in the future, or they can invest heavily in their farm system and through trades to start cranking out young talent to put around these guys. It sure looks like they’re trying to do the latter. In this scenario, they would use free agency to fill in a few holes here and there, not to build a team. In other words, you don’t go signing Orlando Hudson when Scott Sizemore is ready to do the job. You might add Johnny Damon to fill a leadoff hole, but you do it as a short-term patch until your younger guys are ready.

Time will tell whether they can pull it off. If they can, it’s going to be a very exciting team to watch. Toiling around the Internet, I found a Tom Verducci piece on from 2007 listing his top 10 franchise players under 25. Cabrera was first, Verlander eighth.

UPDATE: I asked Dave Dombrowski about this after the Verlander press conference Thursday. His answer kind of reflected what we’re talking about.

“To me, it’s important to have star players if you can. Now, star players cost a lot of money also. So you also have to balance them with other players. But by the moves that we made, we are able to look ahead and be in a position where we can keep that and build around them.

“You can look four years, five years down the road, and I’m sure we’ll be scratching our heads and saying, ‘OK, where does this come?’ But we’ve put ourself in a position to deal with that by what we’ve done and having enough young players come. We all know there’s a new basic agreement after the 2011 season, so how that will come into play, I have no idea. But we’ve put ourself in a position where we think we can have a couple of quality players, some young players coming that are good young players, and be in a position where we have set the foundation for our club to build around for a long time.”

Also confirmed that Verlander will make $20 million a season from 2012-14. He gets a $500,000 signing bonus, a $6.75 million salary this year and $12.75 the next.


Thanks for the two articles Jason – a dose of reality even before the corks were popped!!🙂
Trading of relievers for one or two position players during March will finalise the roster.
The 2009 second half splits of Inge .186/.260/.281; Everett .207/.248/.287; Ramon .264/.329/.318 and Laird .205/.282/.265 combining for only 63 RBI’s from 727 AB’s. The lower order killed any momentum built in the middle order, not to forget Curtis’s .169/.190/.169 against lefties. The Tigs were lucky to go 50% during the second half conceding more runs and winning more than their fair share of the close games.
When you bring back the same crew and add a rookie 2B yet to recover from a serious ankle injury, the infield has to receive attention before the outfield.

Some interesting payroll stats:

$ 67 million comes off the books after 2010, barring any extensions or that one vesting thing.
Another $ 23 million comes off after 2011, including Valverde.
In this whole group of players, there isn’t one that I would say the Tigers NEED to extend. In fact, there isn’t another major free agent challenge from within until 2015. Flexibility.

Payroll in 2011 shows six players under contract for about 54 mil, including Verlander (est 12 mil)
Four players, Zumaya, Miner, Galarraga and Raburn are arb eligible- no big deal
All other players (15) will have under 3 years experience, most making jus $ 400 K.
That’s about $ 64 million without any additions. Flexibility!

But there will be vacancies at 3B, SS, OF, one RP, and a couple SP’s. That’s assuming AJax, Sizemore, and Avila can all start.

DD can build through the draft, and our pitching future looks very bright with Crosby, Oliver and Turner on the farm. The bullpen looks good down the road also.
But the lineup? Nothing for SS, nothing for 3B, no OF’er capable of replacing Magglio or Guillen. Maybe Sizemore, Avila, and Jackson can step into starting roles- maybe not.

DD will have plenty of payroll flexibility, and he’ll need to use it!

Not counting out the Magglio option. It’s easy to write it off now, but none of us know what position the Tigers will be in around August and September, when those all-important ABs approach. Nobody knows what kind of importance Magglio is going to play down the stretch, either.

While I am pleased that JV is going to be around for a while I find the money that is handed out in baseball obscene. Just a personal opinion.

I am glad to see that Verlander got what he had coming. He is a great Tiger and part of this team. I am expecting great things from Bonderman to solidify the rotation. I believe he is going to make a strong #2 or 3 starter by the end of the year. He is a fighter and competitor and will rebound to his form of a few years ago. He is still young. It will be a fun year to watch the Tigers.

Jason, thanks for this very interesting entry. Good stuff.
Tigerdog, always enjoy your takes on the upper management business.
Dave, I have to believe that Inge and Laird won’t repeat their miserable 2nd half offensive production. Laird needs more days off and Inge probably does too. That ball is in Leyland’s court.
GK, I agree with you about the salaries and MLB needs to address this. It can’t be done with salary caps and luxury taxes; it will take some real creative thinking. The players union has to buy into this too because, for every Verlander, there’s a Damon or a Thames still out there. The players need to understand that there isn’t an umlimited supply of cash, and a handful of stars making mega-bucks is taking money out of the pockets of the rest of the players.
Speaking of Damon, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that DD is holding out for a one year deal. We can definitely use him because, weak arm and all, he’s still a better leftfielder than Guillen.
I realize there are those fans who will accept nothing short of winning, that a WS team that doesn’t win is only the first loser, but…………Dombrowski is right when he says that a team has to remain competitive year in and year out. In reality……….in reality, you have to put a good product out there if you’re trying to sell it. With the disappointing end to 2009 coupled with the December transactions, the Detroit club came dangerously close to losing a substantial chunk of their fanbase. They’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s still hope that they can field an appealing team.

Sure would love to be privy to that news conference. But it seems no one is carrying it live. Oh, well, maybe it will be on later.

“Not counting out the Magglio option. It’s easy to write it off now, but none of us know what position the Tigers will be in around August and September, when those all-important ABs approach. Nobody knows what kind of importance Magglio is going to play down the stretch, either.”

That’s very true, Jason. I don’t see how Magglio regains enough power to be worth $ 15 million, but I think that if they spent $ 6 mil or so on Damon, that $ 15 million option would not vest. They’ll have some spending room in 2011 either way. As a fan, I’m not sure that I don’t want Magglio back for another season. If his option doesn’t vest, I don’t know what DD will do with the savings.

BTW- if you’re not counting Sheff’s money on the 2009 payroll, then it’s likely that you won’t be counting one of either Bonderman, Willis, or Robertson in 2010. I can’t see all three on the opening day roster. I don’t see Nate or Willis in the bullpen with all those lefties available.

It’s time to get some banter going. Marty, are you sick of winter in Rochester? Greg, any snow days in Virginia? I have a poster in my rec room of the Untouchables, Verlander and Zumaya. Hopefully that one comes true, unlike my Granderson Jersey! I, too, am concerned with the defense. The centerfielder needs to cover a lot of ground. I still like Raburn out there in left. So he made a bad play. He also threw some people out. I agree that Inge and Laird will do better in the second half if the manager gives them some rest. What is the manager’s record in the second half since he has been in Detroit? We all talk about the players…….One day close to Spring. I can hardly wait. Go Tigers, 2010! –Dave

Hey Dave. I suspect Virginia might be getting pounded tonight. I’m actually far enough south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie to escape most of the lake effect snow. It has been a cold winter though. Once February arrives I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have been following the blog all fall and winter but haven’t been inclined to add much. As always, a lot of interesting discussion.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Curtis does with the Yankees. I’m still bummed with that move. But Curtis will certainly get some major national exposure now. From a pure, love of the game fan standpoint, you got to be happy for him and wish him the best. The irony is that I won’t be able to watch many Yankee games as I’m blacked out from watching them on Won’t even be able to watch them play the Tigers.
Should be a good Super Bowl this Sunday. I always admired the Colt organization. Peyton Manning is the best. But I always like a good underdog story and it’s nice to see the Saints finally get their chance. One less team that’s never been to the Super Bowl. Let’s see, who does that leave? I like the Bills and the Lions. Needless to say I don’t watch NFL football like I used to………

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