What (if anything) is next for the Tigers
The underlying expectation all along this offseason was that Max Scherzer was as likely to be back in a Tigers uniform this spring as he was in any other jersey, if not moreso. Even as the Tigers added starters, trading for Shane Greene, subtracting Rick Porcello and adding Alfredo Simon, it seemed more like an insurance policy to make sure the Tigers were covered if Scherzer signed elsewhere.
With Scherzer now about to become a Washington National, the deals the Tigers have made now seems to have set up the rotation the Tigers are going to have.
“We have not pursued anything else at all,” Dombrowski said Monday, “despite any type of rumors.”
That last part was a reference to last week’s report that the Tigers had contact with James Shields’ agent, Page Odle. It doesn’t mean the two sides didn’t have contact, but it suggests Dombrowski hasn’t been interested.
Asked if they’re now set with their rotation, Dombrowski indicated that they are.
“We’re very happy,” Dombrowski said about their rotation.
Essentially, the Tigers have a few options. If they wanted to add a starting pitcher now and go all-in for 2015, Shields is the most likely route. He’s the lone major free agent left, and he has proven himself as a postseason-caliber hurler, even though his postseason performances have left an empty feeling.
Shields is not on the level of Scherzer. He’s 2 1/2 years older with 700 more innings on his arm, and he hasn’t come close to Scherzer in Wins Above Replacement since 2011. He is workhorse, known for is his ability to pitch deep into games consistently and give his team a chance to win if it can provide some support. Whether he is an ace at this point is up for debate, though it wouldn’t be a question in Detroit.
Beyond Dombrowski’s remarks, though, the setup seems unlikely for Shields to end up a Tiger. He wouldn’t be the first player to sign with Detroit in the final weeks of the offseason, but the Tigers’ past late-winter deals all had less interest than Shields seems to be drawing at this point. If Shields lowers his asking price from $100-plus million as reported, he’ll have no shortage of interested pursuers, by all indications. If the Tigers were among them, it would be a complete shift in strategy.
By all indications, Shields has never been in Detroit’s offseason plans. Until Friday, the Tigers had never been linked to Shields, their division rival in Kansas City for the past two seasons and a familiar nemesis in Tampa Bay before that. There have been no signs he was a topic for discussion going into the offseason, or that he drew any contact at the GM Meetings in November or Winter Meetings in December. Even industry people familiar with the Tigers’ approach, who have been following the Tigers’ moves, were befuddled at the idea when the rumor came up last week.
If Dombrowski and the Tigers expected Scherzer was on his way out, they had every reason to turn their attention to Shields earlier. They did not.Beyond that is the question of what a Shields signing would mean for David Price, and any chance the Tigers might have to re-sign him. Before Sunday night, the question the Tigers faced seemed to be whether they could keep Scherzer or Price. Though some have pointed out the friendship Shields and Price have as ex-teammates from Tampa Bay, it’s difficult to envision the Tigers being able to afford both. Even if Detroit could sign Shields at a discount, despite competition, the impact of Scherzer’s deal on Price’s potential contract has the chance to be big. Do the math, add in the contracts for Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and Detroit could need a $100 million rotation to fit both of them, even with a minimum-salaried fifth starter. Otherwise, the Tigers would go into 2016 with Verlander, Sanchez and a 34-year-old Shields fronting their rotation.
As counter as it seems to the win-now mentality, the Tigers might be better off avoiding a signing for now, and waiting for either the July trading deadline or next offseason’s market, when more front-line pitchers — Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Leake and Mat Latos among them — are on track to hit free agency.
If the Tigers want to go all-in on trying to re-sign Price, they might have to wait until next winter as well. After Scherzer bet on himself and won big on the market, it’s difficult to envision Price — a more accomplished starter with a healthier track record — having concerns about staying healthy and not waiting out the season.