August 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers face choices with Max Scherzer, Omar Infante

Notes, thoughts, items as the Tigers try to push the Indians and Royals a few rows deeper into the American League Central bleachers:

Tigers face some starting rotation decisions

Assume the first-place Tigers hold tight and crack Octobers playoffs. They can get by with three or four starters, which probably shifts Rick Porcello to a bullpen much in need of Porcellos skill and flexibility.

Thats one way you handle a surplus of quality starting pitchers. A second debate will begin as soon as the season ends. Do you continue with the same quintet in 2014 and confine Drew Smyly to bullpen work for a second season when you know his value as a left-handed starter is premier?

The answer, as much as can be imagined today, is yes. Smyly has been the gift that keeps giving and should be every bit as handy in 2014.

But what about Max Scherzer, who is 14 months from free agency? How does his future play into Tigers thoughts and strategies?

Its a percentage bet Scherzer will stay put until he and agent Scott Boras announce their contractual plans late next year, assuming the normal timetable holds.

Boras isnt big on extensions ahead of free agency, particularly for players who stand to rock the Gross Domestic Product, which Scherzers new contract could do, if he stays healthy.

Neither, it seems, will the Tigers be interested in trading Scherzer ahead of his walk season. And for several reasons.

Because he will be a one-year rental, Scherzer isnt apt to earn the trade package that would entice the Tigers into parting with a pitcher so vital to their plans.

The Tigers will also win a first-round draft pick in 2015 once they make the anticipated qualifying offer ($12 million-$13 million) to a player of his prowess.

That equates to just enough compensation, in tandem with his glitzy presence in the rotation, to keep him in Detroit for another 40 starts. Scherzer fans should savor each one of these limited-edition appearances.

Tigers contemplate their future infield and Omar Infantes place

The Tigers like their situation with a second baseman who a little more than a year ago brought peace and harmony to their once-volatile infield post.

The new, more stable second baseman came with a catch. His contract would run out at the end of 2013. Infante, barely 15 months into his second stint in Detroit, could be moving elsewhere ahead of next season.

The Tigers arent overly worried. And thats because they love Hernan Perez. Fans got turned off to Perez because a 22-year-old swung at some nasty sliders and breaking pitches away that left him looking well, like a rookie, during his stint as a replacement for the injured Infante.

But don't be fooled. Perez is batting .412 in eight games since reporting to Triple A Toledo and will learn to shun those bad big league sliders. In fact, the Tigers think Perez will be, over the long haul, a better player than Infante. He has speed, range, and probably a stronger bat as he matures, and on those points the Tigers are unshakeable.

Heres where the issue gets sticky.

The Tigers believe in mixing a certain amount of young talent with more seasoned players. It tends to promote season-to-season transitions that enable them to compete regularly.

But how much youth is too much? Jose Iglesias, who is all of 23, is set to open next season as Detroits regular shortstop. Nick Castellanos, who turned 21 in March, is the tentative choice to become manager Jim Leylands Opening Day left fielder. Thats a lot of peach fuzz in an everyday lineup.

The Tigers are of two minds on re-signing Infante, who said Tuesday exactly what you would expect: He very much wants to return to the Tigers.

They understand it will take a multi-year deal to bring back a man who turns 32 in December. They can make the case with owner Mike Ilitch that a two-year deal for, say, $16 millions-$20 million, is worthwhile, that its money in the bank as they make absolutely sure Perez is ready for promotion, at which time Infante should be an easily moveable contract.

The Tigers might well decide to do just that. But what if another team offers three years?

While fans believe Ilitchs payroll has no ceiling, in fact it does, and the Tigers have all but reached outer space in extending heavy paychecks.

If they find that Iglesias-Perez can be their new up-the-middle tandem, they gain a heavy edge in payroll flexibility that can be used for chasing free-agent relievers, or whatever Novembers needs dictate.

In fact, the Tigers arent sure how they will decide the Infante matter. Their hearts tell them to go with the kid. Their head says they probably need an insurance policy that Infante potentially presents.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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The Tigers will have a tough decision to make regarding starter Max Scherzer's future in Detroit. / Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News