About Payroll Flexibility

When I interviewed Dave Dombrowski last January, one question asked was about payroll flexiblity. At the time, the Tigers only had 3 players signed beyond 2005, Ivan Rodriguez, Troy Percival, and Carlos Guillen (Magglio Ordonez had yet to sign, and Dmitri Young had the vesting option). Since then the Tigers have locked up additional players, and lost some of their flexiblity.

So far the Tigers have $65 million commited to 10 players in 2006. Of those 10 players, one of them probably will never throw a pitch (Troy Percival), and the other isn’t even a lock to make the roster (Justin Verlander). The Tigers also have 3 players who are in line for hefty raises in Craig Monroe, Mike Maroth, and Jeremy Bonderman. The trio will probably fetch $10 million between them easily – especially with the contracts given to starting pichers this year. Essentially the Tigers will be paying $75 million for half a roster.

In 2007 things are a little better. Dmitri Young’s salary comes off the books (assuming the team doesn’t pick up the $7 million option, as does Troy Percival’s. But even with that relief the committed payroll is $47 million. By that time, Nate Robertson, Fernando Rodney, Franklyn German, Omar Infante, and probably Chris Shelton, will join the arbitration ranks, and hopefully Bonderman will have shown enough to warrant $5 million a year.

Going forward another year to 2008 probably isn’t worthwhile because I’m not sure how much roster continuity you can count on, but we’ll do it anyways. In 2008 the Tigers only have Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, and Justin Verlander. Pudge has a $13 million team option with a $3 million buyout. Bonderman will be in his last year before free agency, and Joel Zumaya and Curtis Granderson will be in their last years of indentured servitude.

Next year will be expensive for the Tigers, and 2007 won’t be a picnic either. However, they are well positioned to take on contracts in 2008. In addition, if the promise of the 2005 draft class at least partially fulfills itself, there could be a nice mix of cheap young talent and established homegrown talent. I don’t know how this compares to other teams, but things look promising.

And that is what I like about the Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones contracts. I think both are on the steep side – especially given their ages. However, any pain is in the short term. Detroit isn’t hooked into long, potentially crippling contracts. Afterall, they already have one of those with Ordonez.

I don’t think I’ve sat down and looked 3 years out at the Tigers before, but I have to say I’m encouraged. I know another year of development doesn’t sound promising to Tiger fans, but 5/50 contracts aren’t the answer.