Why this beat writer is an idiot

JON PAUL MOROSI: Why A-Rod is too rich for the Tigers

Team would have to cut players

Nick Shlain: Yeah, because teams can just cut players and be rid of their salaries. Just like the Yankees did with Carl Pavano…

Let’s suppose Alex Rodriguez really, really wants to be a Tiger.
Let’s suppose he opts out of his contract with the New York Yankees.
Let’s suppose he decides the high-profile markets — New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles — are no longer his style.
Let’s suppose Detroit’s interest is mutual and that club officials are determined to sign him without drastically altering the team’s business plan.
Let’s suppose Rodriguez, undaunted by Comerica Park’s homer-hindering dimensions, attends a happy news conference there this winter, after signing his $30-million-per-year contract.
Let’s suppose a sellout crowd arrives at Comerica on March 31, 2008, to watch Rodriguez play his first game for the Tigers.

NS: Alright, I’ll suppose all of this garbage and play your little game.

Imagine the fans’ excitement as Rodriguez runs out to his position — shortstop, of course — for the top of the first inning.

NS: Yeah, I know it’s exciting to have the best player in baseball playing for your favorite team. I’ve had that feeling for the last four years.

Imagine the fans’ anxiety one moment later, as they examine their game programs.
Carlos Guillen? Gone.
Placido Polanco? Gone.
Jeremy Bonderman? Gone.

NS: Actually, if the Tigers let go of Todd Jones ($5M), Sean Casey ($4M), Neifi Perez ($2.5M) and Kenny Rogers ($8M) (all of those players are dead weight and can be easily replaced), then they have $19.5M coming off the payroll. Add that with a $10.5M increase in payroll, which wouldn’t be totally inconceivable for a team that had 3 million fans this season, went to the World Series two years ago and increased their payroll by $13M last off-season, and you get $30M of free space to sign ARod, the best baseball player in the game.

Brandon Inge? Gone.

NS: Although it is not possible to simply cut players and be rid of the team’s salary commitment to said players, I doubt many Tiger fans would miss Brandon Inge’s .688 OPS for the $6.2M he’ll be owed in ’08.

What, you thought the money would come from somewhere else?

NS: Yes, I just came up with a pretty simple plan that was derived from letting go players that can *actually* be let go (Jones, Casey, Rogers, Perez), unlike what you came up with, a bunch of guys who are under contract long term (Bondo, Guillen, Polano, Inge). Also, the players I let go can be replaced easily with players from the Tigers farm system. You, Jon Paul, let go mainstays of the team in Bondo, Guillen and Polanco.

Here we are, likely weeks from learning whether Rodriguez will become a free agent, pondering a question that may be rendered moot:

NS: Actually, we aren’t doing anything. You are the one writing a column that centers around a question that may never need to be answered.

Would the Tigers have interest in A-Rod, if he becomes a free agent?

NS: Who wouldn’t? Is the .339 EqA going to scare anyone away?

The answer, in one respect, is yes. Every team in baseball would love to have one of the best players in the game’s history.

NS: Duh.

To pursue him, though, Detroit would have to cross a wide chasm of both perception and reality.

NS: Didn’t they “cross a wide chasm of both perception and reality” by going to the World Series when they hadn’t made the playoffs in 18 seasons?

Club officials would need to convince Rodriguez that the sum of his opportunities — on and off the field — would be greater here than on the coasts. And then they would need to reconfigure the franchise’s financial structure to accommodate a $30-million-per-year player.

NS: This is not that hard, I showed what realistically needs to be done earlier. All you do is just say the Tigers need to make moves that are against the rules of baseball. Like cutting guys and not playing their salaries.

To put this in perspective, Inge, Guillen, Polanco and Bonderman are scheduled to earn a combined $31.3 million in 2008. So, unless the Tigers are on the verge of a dramatic payroll increase, they would need to move those contracts — or a similar combination — to make room for Rodriguez.

NS: In my combination of players to let go, which I wouldn’t call “similar” to his (it was just much more practical), I got the Tigers into a scenario where they only needed to add $10.5M to the payroll, not $30M.

By the way, $10.5M isn’t a drastic increase in payroll for a team that had a $95M payroll and added $13M from ’06 to ’07.

Now, if shedding three-quarters of the infield — and this year’s Opening Day starter — sounds too steep, feel free to devise another plan.

NS: I did. It beat the hell out of yours.

To use an extreme example, you could propose trading Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield to free up the money … but they’re only making a combined $29 million next year. You’d have to scare up another million to square the books.
Still interested?

NS: Does Jon know there is no salary cap in baseball? Does he know that the Tigers have $19.5M coming off the books in pure dead weight? Does he know that if the Tigers add $13M to their payroll, for the second year in a row, then they’ll have enough for ARod?

Playing with the payroll

NS: Yay, fun!

The point here is not that club owner Mike Ilitch is taking a strict approach to the Tigers’ payroll.
In fact, the opposite is true.

NS: Right, but you seem to be ignoring this fact.

To Ilitch’s credit, the team has operated with a flexible bottom line in recent years. He has given club president/general manager Dave Dombrowski great latitude in building the roster, and Ilitch’s willingness to spend big on draft picks — against the wishes of Major League Baseball — has delivered immediate dividends.

NS: I’ve said repeatedly that spending big on draft picks is much, much smarter than on Free Agents. When you spend money on draft picks, you get a top prospect. When you spend money of Free Agents, you lose a top prospect.

The club is enjoying record revenues, so fans can reasonably expect that the team will spend more money.

NS: Yeah, fans can expect that they’ll spend more money. But, you…not so much.

And it is. Detroit’s payroll this year was around $97 million, when including the cost of minor league call-ups, and that figure could easily be near $105 million by next Opening Day.

NS: $105M? Really? That’s funny because my plan had them able to sign ARod and put them at, oh wow, $105M.

Yet, a jump to $126 million — an increase of more than 30% — would be another matter entirely. And that’s about what it would take to sign A-Rod without dropping Inge, Guillen, Polanco or Bonderman from the payroll.

NS: A jump to $126M is not necessary. Dropping Inge, Guillen, Polanco and Bondo isn’t an option, stop bringing it up.

Here’s why.

NS: Oh, I’m interested to hear this.

Aside from money owed to recent draft picks Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello, Detroit has committed $77.1 million to 10 spots on its Opening Day roster. In other words, the team has not yet agreed to contracts with three starters, six relievers and six position players — including starters at shortstop and in leftfield.

NS: The Tigers can easily fill their hole at LF with minor league prospect Cameron Maybin. If you don’t like him, then fine have Ryan Raburn (.934 OPS in 315 AB at AAA and .847 OPS in 137 AB at MLB) in LF. Either way, the Tigers are adding zero dollars to the payroll and being able to fill the hole in LF with a decent bat from a young and cost controlled player.

And, if ARod comes to Detoit, he’ll play SS, filling that hole and keeping the payroll at $105M.

Here is a cost efficient way to deal with the rest off the roster:

Have a rotation of JV-Bondo-Robertson-Miller-Jurrjens.
Bullpen: Zumaya, Rodney, Miner, McBride, Seay, Grilli, Bazardo
OF: Maybin and/or Raburn, Granderson, Ordonez, Thames
DH: Sheffield
IF: Inge, ARod, Polanco, Guillen, Santiago, Hessman,
C: Pudge, Rabelo

Depending on how the Tigers do in arbitration, that would leave the payroll at somewhere in the $110M range with the escalators in certain players contracts. Also, that would be a sweet team.

Even if the Tigers took a conservative approach to their remaining roster spots, they would be hard-pressed to spend less than $25 million. So, without signing Rodriguez, they’re on their way to a club-record $102-million payroll — at the very least.

NS: Number 1) How would a “conservative approach” involve spending $25M on like 4 players?

Number 2) That is just wrong. I just dealt with the roster and in that hypothetical scenario; it didn’t cost anything near $25M.

Could the payroll be even bigger than that? Sure. It was only last month, after all, that Ilitch said, “If a player comes along and we need him, somehow you always try to figure out how you can get him.”

NS: I think Illitch realizes that hockey is on the downswing and baseball is setting career highs in attendance despite the fact that a large, unknown chunk of the players are using performance enhancing drugs and that he needs to put more into the Tigers. Good for you guys.

The final piece, though, tends not to be the biggest one.

NS: Oh boy, here it comes.

Dombrowski could trade for Atlanta shortstop Edgar Renteria or Seattle leftfielder Raul Ibanez without making a long-term commitment or altering the core of his team. Not so with signing A-Rod.

NS: Wait a minute…So, in a trade, you don’t give up anything, but in a Free Agent contract you have to get rid of the core of the team?

Also, one of the things to take advantage of in a trade is to trade for players who are undervalued. You know, buy low and sell high?

Edgar Renteria is overrated right now. He has a career OPS+ of 97, but this year he put up his second best mark ever at 125. He is going to be 32 next year and we’ll probably see him come back closer to the 97 career mark than we will to the 125 over the next three years.

Also, Renteria will make $9M in ’08. He is not such a cheap option either. A cheap, young option for the Tigers would be Mike Hollimon, who most of you haven’t heard of.

Hollimon is a 25 year old 2B/SS prospect, he is currently playing with Maybin in the Arizona Fall League, which is a league full of players close to MLB-ready (Just a few examples: Ross Ohlendorf, a NYY RP already has MLB experience is playing there, and so is 2008 ROY favorite Evan Longoria). Holimon, in his third season of pro ball in ‘07, posted an OPS of .849 at AA-Erie. He showed a combination of power (.478 SLG, 58 XBH) and speed (17/23 in SBs). If the Tigers don’t get ARod, I would endorse Holliman as the best option.

Ibanez isn’t overrated. He’s been consistently good over the last three years. But, the Tigers can fill the LF position with a younger and cheaper option like Maybin and/or Raburn.

Rodriguez’s home-run power — and marketing might — should make his 2008 employers very content. He may even deliver that elusive championship. Barring an unforeseen change in philosophy, though, he won’t do it in Detroit.

NS: We all know he’s not going to Detroit. But, the reasons aren’t because Dave Dombrowski is too lazy to figure out a way to cut payroll and sign ARod with the adding $10M (something that was done between ’06 and ’07 and wouldn’t be a stretch to be done again with the 3 million fans that watched the team this year) or because the Tigers don’t want his production. The reasons are more like ARod doesn’t want to go to Detroit because the big ballpark will hurt him on his quest for the home run record.

Props to Morosi for not taking the easy way out and just calling ARod a choker. He spent time coming up with something original, no matter how stupid it was.

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