The Tigers spent the first part of the offseason telling teams that they're open to trading just about anyone. They've spent the next part of the offseason insisting that they didn't mean they'll trade anyone for just about anything.
They say it's not a fire sale, but they won't say exactly what it is. They'd obviously like to reduce their payroll, but they insist that reducing payroll isn't their main concern.
|Magglio Ordonez's $18 million salary is a huge burden on Detroit's budget. (US Presswire)|
That rumor going around the scouting community that they need to cut $20 million to $25 million? Completely false, multiple Tigers officials insisted, although they used much stronger language than that.
The idea that they would give away a player of value (Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson) if you'll take one of their many bad contracts (Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Magglio Ordonez)? Hasn't even been discussed, people inside and outside the organization say, and at this point doesn't interest them.
The idea that you can get someone of value for lower-level prospects, even outstanding lower-level prospects? Forget it, the Tigers insist.
"We're going to continue trying to win in 2010," general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday.
Jackson and Granderson are certainly available, as is catcher Gerald Laird, and even Miguel Cabrera (although it's hard to see anyone taking a chance on the $105 million remaining on Cabrera's deal). But the feeling right now is that rival teams are still offering salary-dump prices, while the Tigers are so far sticking to their stated plan of trying to make "good baseball trades," and asking for "major-league ready guys in return, at areas where we need help."
They say they're serious. They say they're willing to hold onto all of their players if they don't get offers they consider fair value.
We'll see. All we know so far is that the Tigers will be one of the most interesting teams to watch at next week's winter meetings in Indianapolis.
A few Tiger facts to remember:
1. The basics: After spending $115 million in 2009, the Tigers already have more than $100 million committed for 2010, and that doesn't include arbitration for 19-game winner Justin Verlander, Jackson or Laird. It also doesn't include a second baseman (although rookie Scott Sizemore will likely take over), an everyday shortstop (Ramon Santiago could share the job with someone), a closer or a setup man. It does include a whopping $34.5 million for Willis, Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman, who combined for three wins in 2009.
2. The economy in Michigan is terrible, and while the Tigers were fourth in the American League in attendance in 2009 (2.57 million), it's fair to expect that their attendance and revenues will both fall again in 2010.
3. While 2010 figures to be a struggle, the Tigers have enough expiring bad contracts (Willis, Robertson, Bonderman, Brandon Inge, probably Ordonez) that they have just $42 million committed for 2011. So while they'd like to adjust the 2010 numbers, they don't really have long-term problems. And while they aren't saying they can win next year, the Tigers strongly believe they'll be in good position to win the year after next.
4. Granderson is due to make only $5.5 million in 2010, so the Tigers can easily handle his salary. But if you assume that the Tigers have no interest in trading Verlander or Rick Porcello, then Granderson is their one reasonably priced piece who could bring a significant return in a deal. Basically, if you're not willing to discuss Granderson, it's not much of a sale.
5. Jackson might be the most likely Tiger to get dealt. He's two years away from free agency, coming off a good season, and has Scott Boras as his agent. He won't make a ton of money in 2010, but would likely bring a greater return now than he would a year from now, when free agency looms. He's behind Verlander and Porcello in the Tigers' long-term plans, so it's unlikely they would spend big bucks to keep him once he's a free agent.
6. The Tigers probably had no choice but to allow Ordonez to vest his $18 million option for 2010, but that $18 million is a real burden to their budget now. There's nothing they can do about it now, and little they could have done about it (without risking a grievance they likely would have lost), but there's no doubt that they'd be better off if they didn't owe Ordonez all that money.
7. Even the Tigers will admit privately that Willis is a lost cause, and that Robertson isn't going to be worth anything near the $10 million he'll get. They do think Bonderman could be a significant part of their 2010 rotation.
There's one other big factor: owner Mike Ilitch.
He's 80 years old, and ultra-competitive. He also doesn't believe in giving his front office a budget, preferring instead to evaluate every potential move one-by-one.
In the past, that has often led to the Tigers spending more money than they originally planned (as in 2008, when the trade for Cabrera and Willis and the non-trade of Inge boosted the Tiger payroll to a shocking $137.69 million).
So what happens now if the offers Dombrowski gets aren't attractive to him and the other Tigers baseball people. The GM won't speculate, but others in the Tiger organization admit it's possible that this time the owner could tell them to make the move anyway and save a little money.
For now, the Tigers seem to be operating under the assumption that he won't.
So what exactly are they doing?
It's not a Pittsburgh-type fire sale, that seems certain. It's not even a Cleveland-type sale, if only because the Tigers don't have a single Cy Young winner to offer, let alone two.
They are, however, open for business. And they will, without a doubt, be one of the teams to watch next week.