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Paul: Don't be shocked if Max is back

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Max Scherzer gambled, big-time, on himself. And most of the summer, as he racked up strikeouts in bulk, most analysts applauded him for gambling wisely.

But now, already deep into November, Scherzer can't be so sure of himself. In fact, it's become possible that he and agent Scott Boras might've misread the offseason market when, last spring, they said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Tigers' six-year, $144-million offer.

When Scherzer turned down the offer — the largest Dave Dombrowski has ever, personally, seen rejected — the then-reigning Cy Young winner seemed potentially poised for a deal in the $200-million range.

But that would've had to assume the bidders would've been the usual suspects: the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, etc.

Today, there are issues with all those theories. The Dodgers, after spending at a record pace the last couple years and having nothing to show for it, appear to be reining things in, hence the poaching of Rays top executive Andrew Friedman. The Yankees say they're serious, now, about getting under the luxury-tax threshold — and even if they aren't, they're still paying CC Sabathia, who serves as a pretty harsh reminder how risky long-term contracts are for pitchers. The Cubs seem hell-bent on reuniting Jon Lester with Theo Epstein. And the Red Sox don't like to go more than five years for any pitcher, which is why they're a good bet to lose out on Lester.

The Cardinals still seem like a potential fit, especially after trading away Shelby Miller to the Braves on Monday, and given that's Scherzer's hometown team, but they've never seemed eager to overpay for anybody, not even Albert Pujols. The Mariners could be a surprise entrant into the Scherzer sweepstakes, especially if they deal away Hisashi Iwakuma, though they still need offense much more. And the Rangers could get serious, too, though they've got payroll issues of their own.

Those suitors, despite their own issues, all still make sense on some level, but here's something worth noting, and something few are mentioning: Of those seven teams mentioned, only two cities — Dallas, thanks to no state income tax, and St. Louis — have a better cost-of-living rate than Detroit. Thanks to taxes and the housing market, New York's is more than twice as high, and L.A., Chicago, Boston and Seattle are substantially higher, too.

While most of you might scoff at even bringing this up, given the tens of millions in play, Scherzer doesn't. This is a guy, after all, who once declined to eat sushi at Ronin in Royal Oak until, one day, a coupon arrived in his mailbox. He knows finances, he's big into numbers, and he also feels a sense of responsibility to set up his family, and charities, for generations to come. So you better believe that while Boras will be looking for the biggest number — and, thus, bragging rights — Scherzer will be looking for the best value.

And barring a surprise bid from a team like Milwaukee or, say, Kansas City, it just so happens that, in the end, Detroit could end up proving the best value.

Tigers still spending

While there's amazingly little buzz about the ace right-hander these days, it's too early this winter to say the market is crashing on Scherzer. Crazy things happen between now and February. Just look at the 2011-12 offseason. Prince Fielder wasn't getting any bites, but then in January 2012, the Tigers lost Victor Martinez for the season, and suddenly Fielder was signing a nine-year, $214-million deal to play in Detroit. Teams that aren't desperate today might be very desperate in a month or two.

But as it stands now, anywhere in the $200-million range for Scherzer seems like a serious stretch, especially when you consider no pitcher in his 30s, as Scherzer is, has ever come close to such a mammoth deal. Boras can try to convince the masses that Scherzer really has the arm of a 26-year-old, but that's just Boras being Boras — the guy could sell a Big Gulp to an Eskimo.

Now, here's what we don't know: We don't know if the Tigers remain interested in Scherzer, though we suspect they do. And we don't know if the $144-million offer remains on the table, though we suspect it doesn't. It probably was pulled the day last spring when Scherzer said no, and the Tigers, out of character, issued a press release saying, essentially, "We gave it our best shot, but he's too greedy." The public feud stung for both sides, but had a relatively short shelf life.

What's now clear as ever, though, is that Mike Ilitch, at 85, remains very willing to spend on this team — so much so, he just gave the 36-year-old Martinez the most-lucrative deal ever for a designated hitter, four years and $68 million.

Martinez has been a huge part of the success for a team that's won four consecutive American League Central championships in a row, but so has Scherzer. And while losing Martinez would've left a giant hole in the lineup, losing Scherzer threatens to do almost as much damage to the rotation.

Keep Max, deal Price?

The question, as always, comes down to payroll. The Tigers already are primed to spend more than $160 million in 2015, and that's before they significantly address the bullpen, and find some more outfielders. Long-term, there's already more than $100 million on the books for 2018. So, is adding Scherzer's $24 million or so really feasible? Probably not. But that doesn't necessarily nix the deal. If they were to sign Scherzer, they could always trade away a pricey commodity — say, David Price — for outfield and bullpen help.

Fans might balk at that idea, given the extreme bounty the Tigers paid for Price in July. But remember this: There's no guarantee Price wants to stay in Detroit beyond 2015, while Scherzer has repeatedly expressed his desire to do so — most recently in an emotional end-of-season session with the local media. So while Price might be the elite pitcher, albeit slightly, Scherzer appears far fonder of Detroit. Signing Scherzer and trading Price, a free agent in 12 months, would give the staff some long-term stability and save the Tigers brass one headache next offseason, when they'll already be negotiating with Rick Porcello on his future with the Tigers. Just imagine if the Tigers pass on Scherzer, and then lose Price and Porcello next winter. They could be looking at a 2016 rotation of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Robbie Ray (gulp) and who knows what else.

See, maybe this all makes some sense, no?

You'd have to believe the Tigers would be willing partners, here — or, at the least, can't be ruled out. Remember two winters ago, everybody and their dog assumed Sanchez was leaving for more money from the Cubs, until Ilitch swooped in at the last second and saved the day.

Meanwhile, it'd probably be a little bit of a hit to Scherzer's ego — and, especially, Boras'. Big deal. They'll have 144 million pieces of paper with which to dry their tears. And don't be fooled, Scherzer's calling the shots here, not Boras, whose reputation took a big bruise last offseason when he instructed Stephen Drew to turn down a lucrative qualifying offer, only to see that decision blow up in their faces.

Here's what I don't see happening: I don't see the Tigers lowering their offer, because they won't want to rub salt in Scherzer's wounds, even though they were absolutely embarrassed that he turned down their initial proposal. Nor do I see them increasing it, because they won't want him to necessarily "win," either. But that's not to say there won't, eventually, be some common ground.

Sure, Scherzer wants every dollar possible. Be honest, we all would.

And wherever he chooses to go, there'll be a whole lot of dollars to be had.

But, upon further review, he might actually be hard-pressed to do better than Detroit.