Financially strained Tigers may already have their left fielder for 2016

The Detroit Tigers continue to lumber along as the season winds down. With 44 games remaining on the 2015 schedule, they find themselves four games under the .500 mark, 15.0 games back of the first place Kansas City Royals in the American League Central division and 4.5 games back for the second wild card spot in the AL.

Going into next season, the Tigers have a lot to address. The pitching staff has been a major letdown for the entirety of 2015, and with each game, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus‘ seat gets a little bit hotter as Tigers faithful get a bit more restless. Detroit has five players under contract that add up to a total of almost $105 million:

SP, Justin Verlander – $28 million
1B, Miguel Cabrera – $28 million
DH, Victor Martinez – $18 million
SP, Anibal Sanchez – $16.8 million
2B, Ian Kinsler – $14 million

The team also begins making payments of $6 million to the Texas Rangers over the next five seasons when they traded former slugging first baseman Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. On top of that, the team has a club option for closer Joe Nathan, who has been sidelined all season and needed Tommy John surgery. They can pay Nathan a $1 million buyout to get out of paying him his full salary. Add those two amounts plus the five contracts, and we’re up to $111.8 million.

Moving on now to the secondary contracts. The Tigers have five more players that are eligible for arbitration. Here are the five and their 2015 salaries.

RP, Neftali Feliz – $4.125 million
RF, J.D. Martinez – $3 million
RP, Al Alburquerque – $1.725 million
SS, Jose Iglesias – $1.444 million
Util, Andrew Romine – $525,000

Feliz is a question mark. The Tigers signed him in early July prior to the All-Star break when he was designated for assignment by Texas. He has not pitched particularly well for Detroit (13 games, 11.1 IP, 11.91 ERA), and whether Detroit brings him back for bullpen depth remains to be seen. With the exception of Feliz, the other four are expected to get raises, especially in the cases of Martinez and Iglesias.

On Opening Day, Detroit roughly had payroll of $173 million. They have already dumped the contracts of David PriceYoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria via trades, which added up to about $33 million. They have four more expiring contracts: SP Alfredo Simon ($5.5M), OF Rajai Davis ($5M), C Alex Avila ($4.35M) and RP Tom Gorzelanny ($1M).

New Tigers GM Al Avila has been adamant that owner Mike Ilitch will allow him to spend and do whatever it takes to bring a title back to Detroit. The team has also made it clear that the biggest emphasis in the offseason will be the pitching. Three of the five spots in the rotation are still in question and the bullpen……well, it’s the bullpen. There is also a void in left field following the Cespedes trade. In a perfect world, the Tigers would like to consider bringing back the fan-favorite Cespedes, who brought an element of pop in the lineup, defense in the field, and a spark to the club. However, the Tigers may already have their left fielder for 2016.

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Immediately after Cespedes was traded, the Tigers called up outfielder Tyler Collins from Triple-A Toledo to help fill the hole in left field. Collins played a lot of May and June in left field when Rajai Davis was predominantly playing in the platoon role in center field with Anthony Gose. He was back in the Tigers lineup August 1st, and has been in nine of the team’s fourteen August games. Collins is hitting 11 for 36 (.306 BA) this month with three doubles, two runs, and four RBI’s. In 29 games this season, he’s hitting .287 with two home runs and eleven runs driven in.

Collins will certainly have his chances for the rest of the year and he may give the Tigers’ front office more to think about. If he performs will enough, the team may decide to move forward with him as the starting left fielder in 2016. For those who don’t remember, Collins actually made the big league team out of spring training in 2014, but struggled mightily. He went 2 for 15 in seven games at the start of the season before being sent down to Toledo, and didn’t re-join the Tigers until September call-ups. This go-around, he will have approximately two months to basically “try out” for the starting left field position in 2016.

Of course, Collins will have some competition, both in-house and in free agency. The Tigers also have Steven Moya sitting down in Toledo, as well as players like Daniel Fields and Wynton Bernard. Fields made his major league debut earlier this season, while Bernard has played very well in Double-A Erie. If the Tigers don’t feel confident in any of the players within the organization, there are a number of free agent outfielders after this season.

There are plenty of questions to answer for 2016 as the Tigers finish up a disappointing and underachieving 2015 campaign.

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