Detroit – A lot of Tigers fans are asking the same question these days – what are the Tigers going to do now that Max Scherzer has agreed to a seven-year contract reportedly worth $210 million with the Washington Nationals?
Funny thing about that, president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was asking himself that about year ago and had already answered the question long before Scherzer and the Nationals agreed to terms.
"We were not caught by surprise with this case," Dombrowski said Monday morning, though he didn't want to talk too specifically since the Scherzer deal had not been officially announced.
"This is something we've been discussing for months," he said. "I think we've made it clear that we have not been pursuing the (Scherzer) situation. We've said it numerous times."
The truth is, Dombrowski and the Tigers began preparing to replace Scherzer as soon as he rejected their six-year, $144 million offer before last season.
"That's why we went out and pursued David Price last year," Dombrowski said. "Not only to help us last year but, as we said at the time, he puts us in position that protects us from next year (should Scherzer sign elsewhere).
"We made a real run to sign Max last spring and it didn't work. The odds don't improve when he becomes a free agent. So we got David Price and we think he's a comparable pitcher to Max Scherzer – both are very good, No. 1-type starters on a staff."
While many pundits, both nationally and locally, still expected the Tigers to swoop in with a lucrative, last-minute offer and re-sign Scherzer, Dombrowski remained steadfast. He never reopened negotiations with Scherzer's agent Scott Boras.
"We are happy with our starting pitching," Dombrowski reiterated. "You can always get better. I am not saying that in our situation at any position we couldn't get better. But I do like our starting pitching."
The Tigers rotation right now is Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. It is the rotation manager Brad Ausmus expected going into spring training.
"You always hold out hope," Ausmus said. "When you have a guy like Max, the type of guy you like as a person and player, you always hold out hope that somehow he will come back. But certainly we understand the reality of the business."
Ausmus understands, too, that on paper, the Tigers current starting rotation has some question marks, from the relatively unproven Greene and Simon to the health concerns of Sanchez and Verlander coming off the worst season of his career.
"You can look at any starting rotation at the Major League level and you could find question marks," Ausmus said. "Certainly the Nationals look extremely strong, but short of them, find me a rotation that doesn't have a question mark somewhere.
"I still think we have an extremely good rotation. I am extremely comfortable with the five guys who right now are penciled in as the starters. People love to play the game of baseball on paper. That's not how it works."
There has been talk that the Tigers have interest in pursuing free agent right-hander James Shields. Dombrowski refuted the rumor.
"We are happy with our starting pitching and are not in pursuit of any free agent starting pitching," he said.
It could be too, that the Tigers' payroll cannot absorb another huge contract. They signed Price to a one-year deal worth a record $19.75 million to avoid arbitration and, like they had with Scherzer last year, they hold exclusive negotiating rights until five days after the 2015 World Series ends.
If Scherzer's contract is in excess of $200 million, as MLB.com's Ken Rosenthal first reported, then where does the bidding start with Price?
"We like David a lot," Dombrowski said. "But he's new to the organization. We don't like to get into how we handle our negotiations but every one of them is unique. David is a good pitcher and we've tried to make efforts to sign the guys that we really want to retain in the past, but I would not get into the specifics about that situation."
The Tigers' payroll right now is perilously close to the salary cap threshold of $189 million. And $137.5 million of that is owed to eight players – Price, Sanchez, Verlander, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Nathan and Ian Kinsler.
Scherzer was 82-35 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.197 WHIP in five seasons with the Tigers. He was the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2013. He will be joining possibly the deepest starting rotation in baseball in Washington – Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.
The Tigers, because they made a qualifying offer on Scherzer, will get a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft.