No active talks on Scherzer, but no closed door
A day after agent Scott Boras said the pursuit of free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer “is not church bingo,” Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski suggested that — at least for now — they’re not playing the game.
But just because the Tigers aren’t in active talks on Scherzer right now doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bidding farewell.
“I guess anything can happen,” Dombrowski said Thursday, “but we’re not in active pursuit at this time. We’re happy with our starting pitching. Again, we love him, but as I said at the time, we were the sole club that could sign him last spring. It didn’t work. I don’t think our odds improve with 29 other clubs that could potentially try to sign him.”
Effectively, it’s the same update Dombrowski gave on Scherzer twice this week during baseball’s Winter Meetings, which wrapped up on Thursday. Dombrowski made the remarks in the media room at the press conference to announce their trade of Porcello to Boston for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
While talks on Cespedes had been rumored all week, the Tigers’ stance was that they could not give up Porcello or Cy Young winner David Price without some assurance of adding another proven pitcher. If the Tigers swung a deal, the logic followed, it could be a harbinger of progress on a new contract for Scherzer.
Instead, Dombrowski accounted for the loss of Porcello by trading for Reds starter (and converted reliever) Alfredo Simon. He then told reporters the trade meant nothing in regards to their chances on Scherzer.
“Our situation with him has not changed whatsoever,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not sure how many times we have to talk about this situation, but I know it keeps coming up. We love Max. He did a great job for us. Tried to sign him last spring. We really made an effort in that regard.”
Dombrowski was referring to the six-year, $144 million contract offer they made to Scherzer in Spring Training. Scherzer opted to play out the season and hit free agency, and Boras referred to the offer during his annual Winter Meetings session with reporters Wednesday.
“He’s always on the information train to improve himself, to evaluate his market,” Boras said. “Last year, he really turned down a deal that was seven years and $160 million. He looked at the markets … and he really wanted to have the opportunity for choice, to see what teams are interested in him.”
Boras later clarified that he was including Scherzer’s 2014 contract — a one-year, $15.5 million deal to avoid arbitration — in the total, as teams and agents often do on contract extensions for players just shy of free agency.
By adding Simon, the Tigers have five starting pitchers. In Simon’s case, they have a starter who also has extensive experience pitching in relief, including 19 career saves. Three-quarters of his 209 Major League appearances have been out of the bullpen.
In other words, there’s a spot for Scherzer if he returns, and it wouldn’t take a lot of maneuvering, at least with the roster. The payroll could be another matter, since the trades don’t create any space from that standpoint.
Asked about Scherzer expressing a desire to return to Detroit, Boras said, “Certainly I’ve had this conversation with the Tigers about his willingness to return, and that’s been expressed at every level. He’s had a great experience in Detroit. Detroit can be a winning team and he’s very familiar with it, obviously, so he is certainly willing.”
Boras said the Tigers will not get the right to match a final offer from another club when it comes time to make a decision, a sign that the Tigers could be out of the bidding altogether. However, an industry source suggested Tigers owner Mike Ilitch will get a chance from Boras — an agent with whom he was completed many a free-agent contract — to match a final offer, at least as a professional courtesy.