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Maybe Dave Dombrowski wanted to make a preemptive strike, so he doesn't get bogged down with one Max Scherzer question after another during next week's Tigers winter caravan.

In any event, asked Thursday by the New York Post's Ken Davidoff if he envisioned Detroit keeping Scherzer, Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, made his strongest comments to date on the hot topic.

"I would say no, probably not," Dombrowski told Davidoff.

Much of the offseason, Dombrowski has offered some form of the following: The Tigers aren't actively pursuing Scherzer, but they aren't ruling anything out, either.

And truth be told, Dombrowski and the Tigers still haven't ruled it out.

Nobody has heard Dombrowski say the Tigers will not sign Scherzer, and until he does, Detroit remains the perceived front-runner for the 2013 Cy Young winner's services -- because of owner Mike Ilitch's still-burning desire to win it all.

The Tigers last spring offered Scherzer a six-year, $144 million extension, and, frankly, were none too pleased that he and mega-agent Scott Boras turned it down.

It was a calculated gamble by Scherzer, 30, no doubt one made with the Dodgers and Yankees in mind. The big spenders on the East and West coasts were seen last spring to be the most likely suitors for Scherzer, but neither team has expressed any interest. The Yankees earlier Thursday said they don't anticipate bidding on Scherzer.

In December, another ace, Jon Lester, got $155 million over six years from the Cubs.

Scherzer can expect to do as well, but probably not a whole lot better.

The question is whether the Tigers, embarrassed they couldn't get a deal done in the spring, are willing to up their initial offer. Right now, they have no reason to, because that would be perceived as bidding against themselves. Once upon a time, the Tigers had to do that to get marquee free agents. Not anymore. Now, Detroit is a destination.

That said, while Dombrowski has said he likes his five starting pitchers, the Tigers obviously could use Scherzer back in the rotation.

David Price is a free agent after 2015, has had no talks with the club about a contract extension, and is expected to depart Detroit. Anibal Sanchez has battled nagging health issues. Justin Verlander isn't the same pitcher he once was. And newcomers Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon are unproven starters.

That rotation might not even be in the best in the American League Central.

Add Scherzer, and it's definitely the best in the division, which the Tigers have won four years running, and potentially in all of baseball.

James Shields, 33, also remains a free agent after reportedly — and stunningly — turning down an offer of at least $100 million. There have been no known offers for Scherzer, who had grandiose visions of a $200 million deal a month ago.

As for Dombrowski's latest comments, keep this in mind: He's never made a habit of being overly forthcoming about his personnel plans. A few years ago, he said Prince Fielder was not a fit; 48 hours later, he was a Tiger. Even earlier this offseason, he told The Detroit News he wasn't going to trade a starting pitcher. Shortly thereafter, Rick Porcello was gone to Boston in a winter-meetings trade for Yoenis Cespedes.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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