Unlike the last team on this list, the Tigers spend a lot of money; they just don’t spend it very well. They’ve committed nearly $130 million towards their 2010 payroll, which should be more than enough to build a contender, but $65 million of that is going to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. Yikes. The money wasted on those fives guys slashes the Tigers effective payroll dramatically, and is one of the main reasons why the team has had to settle for not-good-enough options at key spots on the roster.
Overall, much like the Giants and White Sox, there are strengths surrounded by too many weaknesses, making the team an unlikely winner in 2010. There are scenarios where they could beat out the Twins for the AL Central, but I wouldn’t suggest putting money on it happening. There are just too many problem spots – the back of the rotation, the outfield, the middle infield, the health of Brandon Inge… it’s a pretty long list of areas of concern. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera cannot win this division by themselves.
Looking ahead, the Tigers do have a large stable of expiring contracts, which should give them some additional financial flexibility going forward, but they’re also going to have to rebuild almost the entire roster with that money. Five of their everyday position players are aging free agents who will likely need to be replaced in 2011, and they’ll need new 4th and 5th starters as well. It wouldn’t be quite as large of a task if the farm system was ready to produce players that could fill these holes, but that’s simply not the case in Detroit.
The Tigers minor league system has some high ceiling young arms, but they’re not close to major league ready, and there’s just not much in the way of high level position players who can be expected to become regulars. While trying to contend in 2010, Dave Dombrowski is also going to have to get some young everyday players who he can build around, because there are a lot of holes going forward in this organization.
You can’t build a long term winner through free agency alone, and the Tigers are now paying the price for some of the contracts they’ve handed out in years past. They’re attempting to rebuild the core of the team while also contending, but from my perspective, it looks like they’re not going to get maximum results from either effort. The effect – an older team with lots of future question marks that isn’t quite good enough to win in 2010. That’s not a great spot to be in.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.