Detroit -- OK, so now what?
But this much is certain: If the Tigers go into Opening Day with the same rotation they have in place today, it's quite unlikely to be as good as 2014.
Losing Max Scherzer hurts, a lot, no matter how much Tigers fans will tell you they didn't want their owner using his own money to pay him more than $180 million to stay in the rotation for the next seven years.
Scherzer, the top free agent on the market, reportedly has agreed to a seven-year deal with the Nationals. But it's not just the loss of Scherzer that sings. Losing Rick Porcello hurts, too, though at least the Tigers got a big piece in return for him -- corner outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox.
Here are the new-age numbers to consider: The five Tigers starters at the end of 2014 combined to post a WAR -- or Wins Above Replacement -- of 18.1, according to figures used by Baseball-Reference. The five starters projected to make up the rotation for 2015 -- Scherzer and Porcello are gone, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon are in -- combined for a 10.6 WAR.
The old calculator says that's a net loss of 7.5 wins.
The Tigers won the American League Central by one game over the Royals in 2014, one game over the Indians in 2013 and three games over the White Sox in 2012.
That should make you cringe.
How much better?
Now, the 2014 numbers won't automatically translate into 2015 numbers. In fact, they almost assuredly will not. Anibal Sanchez should be healthy more than he was, so his WAR should go up. Justin Verlander can't be as bad as he was, so his WAR should go up. Greene could pitch a full season, so his WAR should go up. On the flip side, Simon, by most accounts, pitched over his head with the Reds, is better suited for the bullpen, and probably will see his WAR go down.
Still, the collective WAR should be more than 10.6. The question is, how much more?
Not likely 7.5 wins more.
That's why it would be a big surprise if Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' president and general manager, sticks to his word and sticks with this rotation. He's been trumpeting his five starters for some time now, and did all he could to lower expectations that the Tigers would be able to keep Scherzer -- even though some in the media (guilty) refused to believe him till late Sunday evening.
The Tigers brass began convening in Detroit on Sunday, ahead of this week's caravan and this weekend's TigerFest. Certainly, when the media presses Dombrowski in Grand Rapids on Wednesday and Lansing on Thursday, he'll stay on message. All is fine.
But, truth is, it isn't. And he knows it.
That's why there might be more to that James Shields buzz than we originally thought.
Last week, Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi said the Tigers and Shields had at least been in contact, though he wasn't sure to what extent. Some interpreted that as the Tigers moving away from Scherzer and turning to Plan B, others interpreted that as a smoke-screen for the Scherzer Sweespstakes.
We should see soon enough.
There is no remaining free-agent starting pitcher who can help the Tigers as much as Shields, but he'll have suitors, including, perhaps, the Brewers.
The Tigers could be among the serious suitors, too. But if the luxury-tax was the issue with Scherzer, a Shields deal -- four years, $90 million? -- would put them over the threshold, too. And if the fear of a late-30s breakdown scared the Tigers away from Scherzer, a Shields deal would take him to his late 30s, too. Shields is 33, three years older than Scherzer.
The rest of the free-agent starters are wildly underwhelming, with the possible exception of Chris Young, who carries some risk as comeback player of the year. Then there's Bruce Chen, Paul Maholm, Franklin Morales, Alexi Ogando and Joe Saunders.
So maybe a trade is more realistic. Everyone's already speculating that now that the Nationals have a bulging-at-the-seams rotation, Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister, both free agents next winter, could be dealt.
Certainly, the Tigers would love to have Fister back, but it'll cost much more than Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi -- not that the Tigers even have all of those players anymore. It would cost some seriously blue-chippers, and that's a problem.
Thanks to a flurry of bold moves, both last summer and this winter, the Tigers only have three of their top-10 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America last January. One of them is Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon, who are going nowhere, and another is Hernan Perez, who would get you nothing.
Options other than Shields?
Reality is, if the Tigers don't ante up for Shields, they're likely out of options. For now.
Under that scenario, they'd roll with the five they have in place, use youngsters like Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein and Drew VerHagen for spot-start duty during the spring months, and try to trade with a non-contender for their big upgrade next summer, not unlike what they did last summer when they traded for Price on July 31.
Then, the Tigers could really go to work on the rotation next offseason, when the free-agent pool for starters is a dandy one.
It'll be led by Price -- unless he signs long-term with Detroit, which doesn't appear in the cards for now -- and also includes Porcello, Zimmermann, Fister, Simon, Wei-Yin Chen, Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Justin Masterson, Bud Norris and Jeff Samardzija. Oh, Zack Greinke can opt of his contract with the Dodgers, too, though that would seem foolish, given the supply of pitchers would suggest more cost-effective contracts.
It could be that Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch took a peek at that list and said, "See ya later, Max."
That's a big gamble, though, for a team that's made the playoffs four years in a row, and has the $175-million payroll to suggest they should make it five.
But without Scherzer -- and without another starting pitcher -- that's no sure thing.
The Indians and White Sox are good, and both could make the case their rotation is better than the Tigers'. And the Royals remain good, even without Shields.
Those, by the way, are three teams smiling today, with the news that Scherzer is bolting the division.
The Tigers, they're not so thrilled. They're simply not as good.
OK, so now what?