Due to the Detroit Tigers’ spendthrift habits of late on the free agent market it seems as though they are at a crossroads with budding star Austin Jackson. In my opinion, it is time to extend Jackson on a long-term deal before the price tag gets too high.
Recent players to get such deals include the Cardinals’ Allen Craig and Chicago’s Chris Sale. As for Jackson, he recently graduated from a league minimum player into the first of his three arbitration-eligible years. AJ will get $3.5M to patrol Comerica Park’s center field and bat leadoff for Jim Leyland this summer. As it stands now, Jackson has two more arbitration years coming his way before he enters free agency prior to the 2016 season. At that time he’ll be entering his age-29 season, and when you consider his career trajectory to this point, he could be seeking mega dollars.
It would behoove the Tigers to buy out the last two years of his arbitration rights on a deal similar to what Craig and Sale were given. Craig, 28, received a 5-year, $31M deal from the Cardinals with a $13M club option for 2018. From the White Sox, the soon-to-be 24-year old Sale gets three guaranteed years at $35M with two club options that could total $25M.
What concerns me is that perhaps the Tigers’ payroll, which has ballooned to an all-time high of $160M for the coming season, might prohibit such extensions. Had the Tigers known that Rick Porcello’s stock would be this hot prior to signing Anibal Sanchez you can be sure they would have gladly let Sanchez walk, saved $80M, and have been better equipped to lock up Jackson.
Instead, Detroit is about to start walking a fine line with Jackson who hit .300 a year ago with career highs in almost every major offensive category. If they don’t extend him and he gets to free agency in 2016, smack dab in the middle of his prime, then all bets are off as to him remaining a Tiger.
The advantages to locking him up on say a 5-year, $40M deal are several.
Detroit has Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia, Steven Moya, Austin Schotts, and potentially Daniel Fields all playing outfield and moving aggressively through the farm system. During such a 5-year deal, and when the timing is right for someone to step into a regular role, the Tigers would have dynamite trade bait in Jackson or Andy Dirks.
Should none of the prospects prove ready then the team is set in stone through 2017 with a true game-changing, 2-way player.
With Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera’s free agency set to hit the books in 2015 and 2016 respectively, holding onto Jackson for $8M/year makes keeping the franchise’s two cornerstones in place for the duration of their careers much more feasible, which is something the organization will feel a lot of pressure to make happen.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it sets a trend as an organization. Detroit is finally becoming a team that is developing a fair amount of young talent. Tampa Bay has turned these early, long-term, arbitration-buyout contracts into an art form. Detroit would be wise to do the same.
At some point in the next several years players like Drew Smyly, Alex Avila, Doug Fister, Castellanos, Garcia, and others would be in line for similar extensions. It’s a way of keeping your young players happy, guaranteeing them the millions they’ve been seeking for years, and suppressing inevitable team payroll problems.
This has to be the wave of the Tigers’ future spending and Jackson is the perfect guy to start with.
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