The Max Scherzer Sweepstakes are over.
And the Tigers weren't the lucky winners.
After weeks of barely a peep or a rumor on where the ace right-hander might be pitching in 2015 and beyond, buzz heated up considerably Sunday night, capped off by a CBS Sports report that said the Nationals had landed Scherzer.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman said the Nationals and Scherzer agreed to a seven-year contract, beating out at least one other team. Financial terms weren't immediately available, though Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported it's more than $180 million -- a figure between what he turned down from the Tigers and what he was seeking at the start of the offseason.
Asked earlier Sunday night to declare that Scherzer would not be back in Detroit, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski balked, telling The News, "Nothing further to say at this time."
Interestingly, that was close to the same non-committal he gave The News when it appeared Anibal Sanchez was on the verge of signing with the Cubs in December 2012. A day after it appeared Sanchez was all but gone, the Tigers swooped in and signed him to a five-year, $80-million deal.
Owner Mike Ilitch stepped in at the 11th hour to save the Sanchez deal, but he appears to have sat this one out.
Manager Brad Ausmus landed in Detroit late Sunday night, ahead of this week's Tigers caravan and TigerFest. He was told of the Scherzer news after getting off the plane.
"Obviously, I think Max is one of the best pitchers in the game, and we will miss him," Ausmus told The News. "I will miss him taking the mound every five days, and miss him and his great sense of humor in the clubhouse. I wish him the best."
The Tigers all offseason tried their best to temper expectations among fans that Scherzer would return. Dombrowski pointed out Detroit made its best pitch in the spring, with a six-year, $144-million offer that Scherzer and Boras swiftly rejected. He said last week "probably not" when asked at the owners meetings if Scherzer would remain a Tiger.
But Dombrowski also stubbornly refused to definitively rule out Scherzer's return. And in recent years, when the Tigers planned to part with one of their free agents, they talked openly about moving on, like with Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and Torii Hunter.
There still had been no such statement on Scherzer, even while a variety of reports earlier Sunday hinted the Nationals were suddenly the heavy favorites.
Scherzer and Boras set their goals high this offseason, seeking a deal somewhere in the $200-million range. That's always been a pipe dream, but he'll certainly do much better than the Tigers' initial offer, and even better than the $155 million Jon Lester got from the Cubs in a six-year deal signed in December.
In any event, Scherzer is getting the most lucrative contract ever signed by a pitcher in his 30s. Scherzer is 30.
Signing Scherzer would've pushed the Tigers over the $189-million luxury-tax threshold, which Ilitch, for all his free spending, has hesitated to do. The Tigers already owe big money to Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez, who earlier this offseason signed a four-year, $68-million dollar contract. And with Scherzer gone, they might now turn their attention to long-term extension discussions with David Price, though it's unclear if the feeling is mutual.
The Tigers, like all teams, hesitate on such huge deals for pitchers, as the track record for substantial payoff isn't great, particularly near the back half of long-term deals — as pitchers creep deeper into their 30s. The Tigers might be seeing this first-hand with Verlander, who's struggled the last couple years. The Yankees, a team that seemed at the beginning of the offseason to be a possible fit for Scherzer, are seeing it with CC Sabathia.
The Nationals, meanwhile, always made some sense for Scherzer, as, like the Tigers, they believe in building a winner through a dominant rotation. It's a dynamite rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Doug Fister, acquired from Detroit last offseason.
With Scherzer in the mix — the Nationals have had a history with Boras clients, Jayson Werth the biggest before Sunday night — look for them to deal a current member of their rotation. Zimmermann, a free agent after 2015, is a likely candidate, as is Fister, also a free agent after this season.
The Tigers, for all the pumping up they've done of their current rotation, could be in the mix for one of those guys, though Dombrowski won't be in a hurry to do business with a Nationals team that fleeced him of Fister.
Still, after Price, Detroit's rotation is full of questions, particularly with newcomers Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. Now, the Tigers could turn to James Shields, a more cost-effective ace than Scherzer who, according to Fox Sports, has had at least some initial discussions with the Tigers.
Shields could be had for a deal under $100 million, though when Scherzer goes off the board, Shields' price could go up. The Brewers appear to be a possibly landing spot for him, after closing in on trading Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers on Sunday.
The Tigers could also roll with the cast they have for now, try to get some playoff-push help at the trade deadline, and then go after one of the marquee free agents on the market next winter. That starting-pitching class is shaping up to be epic.
Scherzer pitched five years for the Tigers after being acquired from the Diamondbacks in a 2009 trade. He's gone 82-35 with a 3.52 ERA with the Tigers, winning the Cy Young in 2013. He followed that up by going 18-5 in 2014.
That will be his final season in Detroit, perhaps the biggest free-agent loss for the Tigers since Kirk Gibson left to join the Dodgers in January 1988.
The Tigers never did shut the door on a reunion with Scherzer -- but the Nationals just slammed the door on them.