Still, all three arbitration-eligible Tigers -- starter Armando Galarraga, outfielder Ryan Raburn and reliever Joel Zumaya -- are expected to file when that process begins Wednesday. It's more of a formality in the arbitration process rather than any sign that a deal won't get done. Still, it leaves the Tigers and legal counsel John Westhoff with a little more negotiating to do this month.
Those talks likely won't be nearly as intricate as last year, when Detroit avoided arbitration with Justin Verlander thanks to a five-year, $79.5 million deal. None of this year's arbitration-eligible players are expected to get a multiyear contract for various reasons, unless the terms make complete sense for the Tigers, as they did with Ramon Santiago a year ago.
Though Zumaya would be the most logical candidate, being a potential free agent next winter, he needs a healthy season to set his value on the open market after four years of injury-shortened campaigns. Galarraga's standing in the Tigers' rotation could be short-term, depending on how Detroit's top pitching prospects progress. Raburn has a chance at his first everyday role to start a season, but he'll have to hit to stay there.
That doesn't mean one-year deals are going to be easy. But year after year, Westhoff and the Tigers have been able to find a financial middle ground and get deals done. That doesn't make them a rarity these days; far fewer cases leaguewide go to a hearing compared to 10 years ago. But it makes them effective.
Zumaya said more than a month ago that his agents and the Tigers were talking about a contract, but nothing has been finalized. That doesn't necessarily mean talks have broken down. The team has been known to try to work out deals before the non-tender date, then put talks on the back burner until after the holidays while dealing with other offseason priorities.
"I'm not going to be a guy that's going to take advantage of the Tigers," Zumaya said at the time. "I do know what I can get for arbitration. I'm not greedy."
Teams and players can negotiate up until hearings, which take place anywhere from Feb. 1-21. The two sides first exchange arbitration figures on Jan. 18, which often can facilitate deals once they have solid numbers to use to find a middle ground.
When healthy, Zumaya has the chance to be a valuable piece in the bullpen, even with the depth the Tigers have built up in their relief corps this winter. His ability to get swings and misses in big situations with a fastball around 100 mph is extremely difficult to replace, and his willingness to work on his secondary pitches suggests he can improve. But injuries have limited the 26-year-old to 126 1/3 innings over the last four years and left him without a prominent role going into the season. Depending on the makeup of Detroit's bullpen, he could end up in middle or even long relief.
Zumaya avoided arbitration last year with a one-year, $915,000 contract. He would have earned a $20,000 bonus if he pitched in 35 games this past season, but he fell four appearances short.
Both Galarraga and Raburn are up for arbitration for the first time in their careers, and they both present unique situations.
For Galarraga, the quandary has nothing to do with the almost perfect game. The two sides will have to reconcile his wins and losses with his other statistics. Galarraga went 2-8 with a 4.82 ERA in 21 starts after that memorable night June 2. Part of his struggles came from a lack of run support, but Galarraga also struggled down the stretch before pitching eight innings of two-run ball at Baltimore over the season's final weekend.
As a first-time arbitration-eligible player, his case will also include his 13-win rookie season in 2008, when he was arguably the lone bright spot on the pitching staff with a 3.73 ERA and 178 2/3 innings. But it will also include his brutal follow-up campaign, when his ERA rose to 5.64 and his win total dropped to six, while he struggled with walks and high pitch counts. Somewhere in the middle of all those seasons, the Tigers and Galarraga will have to find a salary they can both agree upon.
Raburn, who turns 30 years old in April, finally cracked 400 plate appearances last year thanks to a surge in consistency along with run production and power. His .280 average, 25 doubles, 15 homers and 62 RBIs put him in line for an everyday role in left field this year, according to team officials. But his past stats will have to be the basis for his arbitration case this year.