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Written by Matt Snyder | 08 August 2012

FielderIlitch

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played in 2012, and from the way things look to be shaping up in both the AL Central race (a half game out) and the AL Wildcard race (a half game up), the Tigers are going to be in the thick of the postseason battle from here on out.

But with the non-waiver trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we can begin to create a fairly realistic picture of the payroll constraints the organization will face when we move to the offseason and into 2013. The first thing to do would be to determine the payroll cap. This number is obviously impossible to know for anyone not named Mike Ilitch, but we can probably come up with a reasonable assumption. Here’s a look at the club’s opening day payroll numbers since 2008 (the first years they eclipsed $100 million, numbers via Cots’ Baseball Contracts):

2012: $133,475,000

2011: $106,953,000

2010: $133,995,400

2009: $115,085,145

2008: $137,685,196

That’s an average of about $125 million with a peak just north of $137 million. The conventional wisdom around town is that Mr. I wants a World Series ring badly and is willing to stretch the payroll to achieve that goal. However, it doesn’t appear that there’s much room to stretch the budget beyond this season’s $133 million opening figure. Attendance has been good and TV ratings are reportedly very high, so perhaps the club will once again approach the $138 million mark (as they did in ’08), but I think it’s unreasonable to expect sizeable growth. It’s probably more than safe to assume a 2013 opening day in the same $133-$134 million range that we saw this year.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 06 August 2012

JeffBakerCubsThe Detroit Tigers announced on Sunday afternoon that they had acquired veteran utility extraordinaire Jeff Baker from the Chicago Cubs for two minor league players to be named later. Baker has played first base, second base, third base, and both corner outfield spots in his career, but with the recent addition of Omar Infante to fill the second base void, Baker is likely to see the majority of his action in the outfield.

The Tigers had made it no secret that they were looking for a right handed bat around the trade deadline – there were even rumors of the team asking about Alfonso Soriano – but with a myriad of quality-ish left handed hitting outfielders already on the roster, a platoon-type player was always the most likely addition. And that’s exactly what they’re getting here.

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Written by Brian Buckey | 05 August 2012

Cabrera_pictureIt looked like the Tigers were going to let one get away in the final game of the series against the Indians. After the game was tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Austin Jackson led off with a triple to the gap in right center. With a runner on third and no outs and the heart of the Tigers’ lineup coming up, the Tigers were going to win this one in front of the home crowd and sweep the Indians out of town. Right? Not so fast. Omar Infante struck out for the first out of the inning. Then Indians’ manager Manny Acta chose to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to load the bases. With Delmon Young due up, Quintin Berry was called on to pinch hit. With the Indians using five infielders to try to cut off the game winning run at home plate, Berry hit a sharp grounder to first base. Carlos Santana fielded and threw home for one out. Catcher Lou Marson returned the throw to Santana at first for a huge double play.

The crowd was deflated as the Tigers blew a golden opportunity to win the game. Cleveland promptly scored three runs in the top of the tenth. Travis Hafner and Ezequiel Carrera hit back to back homers off Joaquin Benoit. Lou Marson followed with an RBI double to put the Indians up 8-5.

Cleveland closer Chris Perez came in and quickly retired the first two Tigers’ hitters. Now with two outs and no one on base Cleveland would surely snap its eight game losing streak. Right? Again, not so fast. Perez walked Alex Avila and then walked pinch hitter Andy Dirks. Jackson followed with a double, knocking in Avila. Then Infante came up with a clutch, two RBI single, setting the stage for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, who was at DH in order to give his sore ankle a little rest, sent a shot into the Indians bullpen to cap an amazing Tigers comeback. The 10-8 win sent the crowd at Comerica Park home happy after a thriller.

Here are some other notes from a wild game:

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Written by Brian Buckey | 29 July 2012

Jhonny_PeraltaJhonny Peralta and Doug Fister did their best to make sure the Tigers weren’t swept at the hands of Toronto. Peralta homered twice and Fister allowed just one earned run in his eight innings pitched. The Tigers managed four runs on a Peralta three run homer and another solo shot by Jhonny. The four runs were the most Detroit scored all series as they combined for just four runs in losing the first two games of the series.

The win at least put a positive spin on what has been a relatively rough road trip. After sweeping the White Sox at home, the Tigers rolled into Cleveland with a 1.5 game lead over Chicago. But Detroit stumbled against the Indians losing two out of three games. In the two losses, the Tigers’ offense combined for just five runs. Justin Verlander and Fister both lost their starts. Max Scherzer pitched well in the middle game to earn a 5-3 win.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 26 July 2012

RyanRaburnAndy Dirks was a late scratch in the Toledo Mud Hen’s lineup last night due to some soreness, but the decision seemed to be a precautionary move to allow the recovering outfielder some rest.

Jim Leyland has been quoted as saying that Dirks will stay on rehab assignment a little bit longer than is usual because he needs the at-bats after missing so much time, but rehab assignments are capped at 20 days (unless there’s special circumstances, and that doesn’t appear to be the case here) so we’ll certainly see Dirks back in Detroit in less than two weeks, and probably a lot sooner than that.

This brings us to the move that everyone’s been talking about recently (“Raburn, Kelly, Raburn, Rayburn, Raburn, Raburn, yadda, yadda, yadda”). When Dirks returns to the big club someone else has to go, and we really only have two candidates: Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn. Neither player are hitting very well this year -- Kelly has actually been slightly better at the plate, but let’s not go through the statistical hair-splitting exercise of trying to justify the value of having a 43 OPS+ bat on your bench instead of a 31 OPS+ bat. Let’s leave it at this: both have been very terrible at the plate this season.

The defensive versatility that either player brings is rendered a non-factor by the acquisition of Omar Infante and the presence of Quintin Berry. Don Kelly won’t be needed to play either third base or center field in a pinch as there are currently better options available (or at least reasonably similar replacements). Berry would get first dibs at any center field duties should something happen to Jackson (that’s why he was brought up in the first place), and Ramon Santiago (or Infante) could handle the hot corner for a spell if the need suddenly arose. So Don Kelly is now the third option in center field and the third (or fourth) option at third base, and Ryan Raburn is third in line for second base duties.

That leaves corner outfield defensive replacement as the only real defensive “need” that either player would fill, a position where both players have rated as “above average”. UZR rates Kelly as having plus range and an average arm, and rates Raburn as having average range and a plus arm (the magnitudes of each are quite meaningless given sample size constraints and the amount of playing time each would be likely to receive).

So here’s the conclusion on their abilities: both players have been relatively equally terrible hitters this season, and both players bring relatively equally good defense as corner outfielders.

So who should go? Here are four answers in order of how ideal each one would be for the team.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 24 July 2012

DannyWorthNo surprises here. The trade for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins meant that the Tigers’ active roster would sit at 26 players (only Jacob Turner was on the major league roster going the other way), so a move had to be made before tonight’s game.

Likely candidates to get shoved off the roster included Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn, and Don Kelly, but  of the group, only Worth could be cleanly sent down to the minor leagues. Ryan Raburn recently earned veteran player status (five years of MLB service time), so even though this year counts as his final option year, he would have to agree to the demotion for it to be allowed. Don Kelly is out of minor league options, so he would have to be designated for assignment to be removed from the roster.

None of those moves would be bad (none of the three players are hitting well on the year), but Worth becomes the most redundant after yesterday’s trade.

The Tigers will need to make another roster move once Andy Dirks completes his rehab assignment (he’s currently playing in AAA Toledo). Either Raburn or Kelly will likely be gone then.

The club also announced that Al Alburquerque will begin his rehab assignment today in Lakeland. He could potentially be a key addition to the bullpen later in the season.

MattSnyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 24 July 2012

OmarInfanteMarlinsDave Dombrowski has a knack for turning left when everyone’s looking right. This move wasn’t as out-of-left-field as the Miguel Cabrera trade, the Doug Fister trade, or the Prince Fielder signing, not even close, but Dombrowski again picked up a name that nobody had been talking about.

The Tigers grabbed (former Tiger) second baseman Omar Infante – one of the hottest trade targets among fans, to be sure – and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez for highly rated prospects Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly along with left handed pitcher Brian Flynn. The two teams will also swap the competitive balance picks they obtained in last week’s lottery.

Here’s a look at the pieces in the trade:

Omar Infante: Omar should be a familiar name in Detroit. He was once a prospecty type middle infielder for the Tigers that was rushed to the big league level in 2002 and 2003 due to the complete lack of talent in the organization. He floundered around as an everyday player for a few years before moving to a super-utility role once payroll was expanded and players like Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco joined the club.

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