We’ve been warned about the impending closing of the Detroit Tigers‘ window of success for a few years now. The franchise has committed large chunks of payroll to good, but aging, players — players whose salaries will soon (if they’re not already) outstrip their production value.
It’s easy to win with good players on team friendly deals. It’s possible to win with good players who are making a market-rate salary. It’s very difficult to win with aging players who are making more than they would get on the open market.
At least, that’s how it goes for a team who has a steady payroll cap. We’ve sort of assumed that the Mike Iltich and the Tigers wouldn’t want to operate much higher than the $173 million opening day payroll they compiled last season.
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It would be difficult — but not impossible — for the Tigers to compete while staying within those parameters, but perhaps the organization will be willing to up the ante (again) in pursuit of another playoff berth and a run at a World Series ring.
Lynn Henning of the Detroit News thinks this is a possibility. He reads the tea leaves and comes up with this:
"all indications point to Ilitch making a full-throttle push for the playoffs and a shot at the World Series his team has yet to win.What is known is this:Any attempt to make a last-place Tigers team playoff-grade in 2016 will be enormously expensive. It could bring a payroll already in the $150-million range to something near $200 million."
Buying one’s way out of a payroll crisis isn’t a slam dunk solution. It could result in rolling the snowball down hill and ending up with a bigger problem at the bottom, but throwing more money at the problem could be a decent short-term solution if Ilitch is willing to eat a potential loss (and it’s not clear that he is).
The method to buying one’s way out of a payroll problem wouldn’t be to put more seven and eight year contracts on the books. It would be to overpay free agents to convince them to take shorter-term deals (one to three years).
More money isn’t the only way out of the problem though. New general manager Al Avila could look to trade a few of the prospects that were acquired at the trade deadline in hopes of landing a couple of quality cost-controlled big leaguers, but the recycling those prospects would put the Tigers right back to where they were a year ago.
It’s going to be a difficult offseason for Avila, Ilitch, and the Tigers, but a fresh infusion of cash could make some of the problems go away for the time being.