November 28, 2009 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning: Tigers Insider

Tigers facing difficult calls on arbitration

The Tigers owe Miguel Cabrera for the next six years of his contract, ranging from $20 million to $22 million per season. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

The Tigers have some sticky decisions to make by midnight Tuesday.

They concern whether to offer salary arbitration to three players who aren't heavy bets to be playing for the Tigers in 2010.

But you never know about Placido Polanco, Fernando Rodney, and Brandon Lyon in a marketplace as seemingly soft as the one taking shape during the 2009-10 offseason.

If the Tigers offer arbitration, a couple of things can happen:

They will get draft picks as compensation for losing any of the three to opposing teams: two draft picks will be awarded if Polanco signs elsewhere (he is a Type A free agent), while the Tigers would get one pick each for Rodney and Lyon (Type Bs) if they decide to work for another club in 2010.

The Tigers could also get stuck for a heavy arbitration tab (the player's one-year salary demand vs. the club's offer) on any of the three. Or, the team might bring one or more of them back by way of a free-agent contract that's agreeable to all parties and that bypasses the sometimes tense atmosphere of arbitration hearings.

Money is tight

At this point, the players are in control. And yet the club has its own exit option here. The club can decline to offer arbitration to a particular player, which means no draft picks should the player sign elsewhere.

A month or two ago, it seemed obvious that the Tigers would offer arbitration to three high-profile performers and happily accept the draft compensation for losing them. They would not risk such dollars on Jarrod Washburn and Aubrey Huff, two players who could stick them for more money than the Tigers would believe them to be worth in 2010. But they would do so for the Big Three.

Money, though, will be tight in 2010. Can the Tigers afford to get slapped with a potentially heavy arbitration salary for any of the three, no matter how much they might like to have Polanco, or Rodney, or Lyon for another year?

That's the gamble being calculated by Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, who is working to pare payroll as the Tigers get busy with a transition toward younger, less expensive talent.

Worth the gamble

Dombrowski isn't tipping his hand, but the guess here is that Detroit will probably offer arbitration to all three. Polanco is something of a gamble, given he is 34, he figures to make $6 million or so for 2010, and the Tigers have already anointed Scott Sizemore as their new second baseman.

Teams signing him must also prepare to forfeit either their first- or second-round pick in next June's draft (it depends whether they finished in the top or bottom half of 2009's MLB win-loss records). In a tight market, teams are indicating they want less expensive talent, even if it's unproven, rather than high-salaried veterans.

Rodney and Lyon are somewhat easier decisions. The Tigers need bullpen help ahead of 2010. And risking a one-year dice roll on either right-hander makes sense, even if they do get stuck with the tab.

By the numbers

$126 M What the Tigers owe Miguel Cabrera for the next six years of his contract, ranging from $20 million to $22 million per season.

$50,000 Cabrera's award bonus for finishing fourth in the American League's Most Valuable Player voting

33-117 What Cabrera has averaged in home runs and RBIs respectively for every 162 games of his first seven seasons.

Double trouble

The Tigers were last in the majors this season in doubles -- even all 16 National League teams, with the pitchers hitting, had more:

Here's the full list:

1. Toronto Blue Jays ...339

2. Boston Red Sox ...335

3. New York Yankees ...325

4. Cleveland Indians ...314

5. Philadelphia Phillies ...312

6. Arizona Diamondbacks ...307

Baltimore Orioles ...307

Oakland Athletics ...307

9. Atlanta Braves ...300

Colorado Rockies ...300

11. Tampa Bay Rays ...297

12. Florida Marlins ...296

Texas Rangers ...296

14. New York Mets ...295

15. St. Louis Cardinals ...294

16. Chicago Cubs ...293

Los Angeles Angels ...293

18. Pittsburgh Pirates ...289

19. Milwaukee Brewers ...281

20. Cincinnati Reds ...280

Seattle Mariners ...280

22. Los Angeles Dodgers ...278

23. Kansas City Royals ...276

24. San Francisco Giants ...275

25. Minnesota Twins ...271

Washington Nationals ...271

27. Houston Astros ...270

28. San Diego Padres ...265

29. Chicago White Sox ...246

30. Detroit Tigers ...245

Quotable

"I dont think at my age (99) Im going to suddenly regain the stamina that is really needed if you do the job and do it well. Its time to accept the fact I had a great run."

-- Bob Sheppard, public address announcer for the New York Yankees since 1951 telling MLB.com of his official retirement.

lynn.henning@detnews.com">lynn.henning@detnews.com (313) 222-2472

Placido Polanco has been one of the Tigers' most productive players ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
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