Scherzer: Nationals offer was “jaw-dropping”

The Washington Nationals introduced Max Scherzer in a Wednesday afternoon press conference, and you figured there would be a lot of talk about two things: The Nationals rotation is really good, and the Scherzer contract is really big.

Asked why he chose Washington, Scherzer said: “Winning. I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot. When you look at the near term and the long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of.”

That said, he admitted his reaction to the contract offer — a seven-year, $210 million contract with a good share of deferred money — was one of astonishment.

“It was jaw-dropping,” he said. “You just can’t even fathom it sometimes. You work so hard to put yourself in this position. And for me, like I said, it’s all about winning. I don’t play this game for money. Yet at the same time, when you have an offer like that, it makes you go wow. I’m very fortunate.”

Scherzer told MLB Network that the deferred money was the Nationals’ idea, and he was on board with it. He later told MLB Network Radio’s Mike Ferrin that the late-emerging market for him did not test his faith that free agency would work out for him.

“I knew this deal was going to get done,” he said. “I knew there were a lot of moving parts throughout the league that had to happen before my market would pick up.”

Scherzer put on a Nationals jersey with number 31 — his old number from the University of Missouri. He wore number 37 in Detroit, but that number belongs to Stephen Strasburg in Washington.

TigerFest roster announced

The Tigers have released their list of players and coaches scheduled to take part in TigerFest. Aside from Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler, Joakim Soria and Tom Gorzelanny, it’s pretty much everyone. Here’s who to look for at Comerica Park on Saturday:

Al Alburquerque
Alex Avila
Wynton Bernard
Nick Castellanos
Yoenis Cespedes
Tyler Collins
Rajai Davis
Buck Farmer
Daniel Fields
Anthony Gose
Shane Greene
Blaine Hardy
Bryan Holaday
Jose Iglesias
Ian Krol
Kyle Lobstein
Dixon Machado
Victor Martinez
J.D. Martinez
James McCann
Steven Moya
Joe Nathan
Hernan Perez
David Price
Andrew Romine
Bruce Rondon
Kyle Ryan
Alfredo Simon
Chad Smith
Drew VerHagen
Justin Verlander
Alex Wilson
Josh Zeid

Tigers announce full caravan schedule, participants

The Tigers put names to places Tuesday for this week’s Winter Caravan schedule. Miguel Cabrera will not make the trip, and he won’t be at TigerFest on Saturday, avoiding travel on his surgically repaired right ankle and foot. The majority of the 40-man roster, however, will take part. That includes new Tigers Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Anthony Gose and Shane Greene, as well as first-timers David Price and Ian Kinsler, and stars Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez.

The full list of appearances can be found here, but below is a list of appearances that are open to the public:

METRO BUS – THURSDAY

Buffalo Wild Wings, 1234 Walton Blvd., Rochester Hills – 1:40-2:25pm

  • Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez will be celebrity servers. The restaurant will be open to the public, first-come, first-served.

Sterling Heights HS Performing Arts Theatre, 12901 15 Mile Rd, Sterling Heights – 4:30-6pm

  • Wynton Bernard, Buck Farmer, Daniel Fields, Blaine Hardy, Ian Krol, Dixon Machado, Joe Nathan, David Price, Chad Smith, Justin Verlander and Alex Wilson will participate in interactive events as part of a Detroit Tigers Kids Club Rally. They’ll also present a jersey in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Warren Consolidated School of Performing Arts.
  • A limited number of tickets will be made available on Thursday. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Hockeytown Authentics, 1845 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy – 5:15-6pm

  • Fans will have the opportunity to take a photo with Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez in exchange for a donation of new, packaged, warm men’s or women’s socks to benefit the Neighborhood Service Organization’s Homeless Recovery program. In exchange for a donation of socks, fans will receive a wristband to take one photo with the Tigers players.
  • A maximum of 150 wristbands will be distributed. Wristband distribution will begin at 4pm at Hockeytown Authentics

Toledo Mud Hens, Fifth Third Field, 406 Washington St., Toledo – 6-7:30pm

  • Manager Brad Ausmus and Alex Avila will participate in a question-and-answer session as part of a ticketed dinner to benefit the Toledo Mud Hens’ Helping Hens Charitable Fund. Tickets available at 419-725-4367 or online through the Mud Hens.

METRO BUS – FRIDAY

North American International Auto Show, Cobo Center, One Washington Blvd., Detroit – 3:15-4:15pm

  • Wynton Bernard, Nick Castellanos, Buck Farmer, Daniel Fields, Blaine Hardy, Ian Kinsler, Ian Krol, Dixon Machado, J.D. Martinez, Joe Nathan, Chad Smith, Justin Verlander and Alex Wilson will participate in the Cars on Parade along the auto show floor before taking part in a Q&A session in the Chevrolet display area. The event is open to the public for those attending the auto show.

NORTH BUS – FRIDAY

Northern Michigan Rotary Club Alliance Business Breakfast, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, 100 Grand Traverse Resort Village Blvd., Williamsburg – 9:15-10am

  • Al Alburquerque, coach Mick Billmeyer, Yoenis Cespedes, Tyler Collins, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Shane Greene, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglesias, coach Jeff Jones, coach Wally Joyner, Kyle Lobstein, James McCann, Steven Moya, coach David Newhan, Hernan Perez, Andrew Romine, Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan, Alfredo Simon, Alan Trammell and Drew VerHagen will participate in a rally with Rotary Club members and guests.
  • Tickets available through many Northern Michigan Rotary Clubs or online.

Zehnder’s Snowfest, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, 730 S. Main St., Frankenmuth – 2-3pm

  • Al Alburquerque, coach Mick Billmeyer, Yoenis Cespedes, Tyler Collins, Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Shane Greene, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglesias, coach Jeff Jones, coach Wally Joyner, Kyle Lobstein, James McCann, Steven Moya, coach David Newhan, Hernan Perez, Andrew Romine, Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan, Alfredo Simon, Alan Trammell and Drew VerHagen will participate in Frankenmuth’s annual Snowfest event.
  • The event is open to the public. Guests are encouraged to donate items for care packages to be sent to troops overseas.

Tigers announce 17 non-roster invites to Spring Training

Most of the Tigers non-roster invitations to Spring Training had come out already. Others, like lefty relief prospect Joe Mantiply, had been expected. Here’s the official list:

Right-handed pitchers: Alberto Cabrera (minor-league signing), Rafael Dolis (minor-league signing), Joel Hanrahan (minor-league signing with incentives), Tim Melville (minor-league signing), Luke Putkonen (outrighted)

Left-handed pitchers: Omar Duran (minor-league signing), Joe Mantiply

Catchers: Miguel Gonzalez (minor-league signing), Austin Green, Grayson Greiner, Manny Pina (minor-league signing)

Infielders: Jordan Lennerton (minor-league signing), Jefry Marte (minor-league signing), Aaron Westlake, Josh Wilson (minor-league signing)

Outfielders: Xavier Avery (minor-league signing), Jason Krizan

One surprise of sorts on the list is Krizan, a 25-year-old rewarded for a good season at Double-A Erie. He batted .293 (136-for-464) with a .364 on-base percentage for the SeaWolves, 31 doubles, seven home runs and 56 RBIs. He’ll be one of a few left-handed hitting outfielders in camp, Tyler Collins and Daniel Fields among them, and he might have benefited from Andy Dirks and Don Kelly signing elsewhere. Still, he’ll get a look.

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.

Dombrowski: Boras called on Scherzer, no negotiations

The Tigers were not actively pursuing Max Scherzer, Dave Dombrowski kept saying this offseason. He said it enough times during the Winter Meetings and in the weeks since that it almost sounded like a mantra. Even he grew weary of the same answer to the same question by the end.

On Monday, with Scherzer having agreed to a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals, Dombrowski had a little more to say about his end of the Scherzer saga, and what contact he had with agent Scott Boras.

“A couple of times in recent weeks, Scott reached out to us to say that Max still liked Detroit and had interest,” Dombrowski said. “But we didn’t have any contract negotiations.”

Whether Boras had any discussions with owner Mike Ilitch isn’t clear. Still, the end result suggests that the Tigers were not going to go to a seven-year offer, if they were going to move from their Spring Training offer at all.

“From our perspective, I think we were pretty clear that our best opportunity to sign Max was last year,” Dombrowski said.

When they couldn’t find common ground on the six-year, $144 million deal, Dombrowski said, “We kind of felt that he would probably leave [at season’s end].”

Jeff Jones on Scherzer deal: It’s bittersweet

Jeff Jones finally got around to cleaning out his truck from an offseason of hunting and fishing Monday morning when he got a call about Max Scherzer. He ended up taking a ride down memory lane.

He thought back to 2012, when Scherzer was still a young pitcher with great stretches but struggling for consistency.

“We sat down one day and we looked at a lot of film,” Jones recalled. “I had seen in Spring Training that he’d held his hands back a little too far.”

So in the middle of the season, they went to work on resetting his mechanics, keeping Scherzer’s hands in the middle of his delivery.

“What it does,” Jones said, “is allow yourself to stay on target a little bit longer.”

Scherzer had an 8-5 record and a 4.72 ERA at the All-Star break that year. He went 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA from that point on. Add that into his remarkable two-year run, and he’s 47-11 with a 2.97 ERA over the last 2 1/2 seasons, with 425 hits and 602 strikeouts over 525 innings.

In the process, Scherzer vaulted from a talented, mercurial young starter to one of the top starting pitchers in the league. With a seven-year contract from the Nationals, he’ll now be one of the highest-paid players in the game as well.

With that, Jones has now coached two pitchers who have ended up signing seven-year contracts worth $180 million or more, with Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Once Rick Porcello’s situation is resolved in Boston, Jones could have three pupils with well over $400 million in contracts.

No, Jones does not get a cut.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” Jones said with a laugh.

The catch, of course, is that two of those pitchers are elsewhere. Only Verlander is currently a Tiger.

“It’s always bittersweet,” Jones said. “You’re happy for the guy because he got a great contract, but you’re going to miss him.”

It’s something many coaches are used to handling. Like managers and rosters, coaching staffs change all the time. A pitching coach could go from one staff to another, with or without changing teams. Likewise, a team can change coaches for no reason beyond a struggling staff.

Jones, however, had the chance to work with Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello since he became pitching coach in the middle of the 2011 season. He worked with them as Tigers bullpen coach before that. His ability to work with the strong-willed Verlander was one reason he got the job.

With Scherzer, Jones said, it was a process to build that relationship.

“With Max, it took a little while when I get the pitching coach job,” Jones said, “because he had a different language about pitching techniques, so I had to adjust.”

Once he did, they connected. They worked on his delivery in 2012, and they tinkered with the curveball Scherzer was working on as well. The combination helped Scherzer become more consistent and more dangerous against left-handed hitters.

Jones has had to learn other starters over years — Doug Fister in 2011, Anibal Sanchez a year later, then David Price last summer. However, he had that core group. Now, only Verlander remains, and Jones is learning a group that includes recent acquisitions Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, getting an idea of what other coaches have had to do for years.
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He has watched video on the new guys, and plans to talk with them later this week during TigerFest and the winter caravan. Like Scherzer, he’s moving on. Still, he appreciates what they had.
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“Geez, he did a great job for us,” Jones said of Scherzer. “You couldn’t ask for more.”

Don Kelly signs minor-league deal with Marlins

Sundays usually aren’t this busy during baseball offseasons, aside from the winter meetings. This one was busy for Tigers departures, not additions.

On the same night Tigers fans saw Max Scherzer agree to terms with the Nationals, Don Kelly also headed elsewhere. Detroit’s longtime utlityman and fan favorite agreed to a minor-league contract with the Miami Marlins, a deal that includes a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training.

The deal gives Kelly a chance to compete for the kind of utility role that kept him in the big leagues in Detroit for the better part of five seasons. He played in 569 games in Detroit, including 24 postseason contests, and played every position in the field at some point.

Kelly became a free agent when the Tigers took him off the 40-man roster at the end of last season. He had talked with the Tigers about a return, but like Andy Dirks, decided he had a better opportunity to make the Major League roster elsewhere.

“There were [talks with the Tigers],” Kelly told MLB.com in a text message Sunday night. “Wasn’t an easy decision, but Miami was a better fit at this rate.”

Kelly, who turns 35 next month, was the last of the Randy Smith era draft picks in Detroit, and had an unlikely Tigers tenure, having left the organization and come back before making the roster.. He never had 300 plate appearances in a season, but he turned a part-time role into a long Tigers career. He had 23 home runs in 570 regular-season games as a Tiger, not including the shot he hit off Ivan Nova in Game 5 of the 2011 AL Division Series. A year later, he hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in Game 2 of the ALDS against Oakland. He started the deciding Game 5 in the 2013 ALDS at Oakland, then played in all six games against Boston in the ALCS. In the process, he became a fan favorite for many.

Once the Tigers traded for Yoenis Cespedes, however, the opportunity for a reserve outfielder in Detroit was limited, with Rajai Davis now thrust into a part-time role. Add in Tyler Collins’ presence, and the picture looked better in Miami, where the Marlins are in need of outfield depth, and the Marlins made sense.

As Scherzer talks heat up, Dombrowski says they’re not involved

So much for the idea that Max Scherzer would linger on the free-agent market into February. Can the same be said of the scenario that the Tigers would jump in at the end and get a chance to match or beat an offer?

According to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman and FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, both also of MLB Network, the Scherzer market is nearing a conclusion, with agent Scott Boras in talks with the Nationals and one other club on a seven-year deal. Rosenthal reports growing confidence from Nationals officials that they’ll complete a deal, while Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish echoed sources saying there’s an increasing sense from opposing clubs that Scherzer will sign with Washington.

That sense amplified Sunday night:

 

The setup is familiar enough to the Anibal Sanchez market two years ago — the one the Tigers won when owner Mike Ilitch answered the Cubs’ offer at the last minute — that the immediate thought was the Tigers are the other team.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is suggesting otherwise. He said in a text message Sunday afternoon that their status on Scherzer is unchanged, that they’re not in active pursuit — the status he has used for several weeks.

Asked if that means that they’re not the other team reportedly in talks on Scherzer, Dombrowski texted, “I just answered that question.”

That doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that Ilitch makes a last-second offer again. But for now, at least, it doesn’t appear to have happened. And the Tigers appear in line for their biggest free-agent loss of the Dombrowski era.

One thing that does appear definitive: The Scherzer saga should have a resolution very soon. If the Nationals sign him, it’ll resolve an interest that has been going on for more than a year. Washington supposedly had interest in Scherzer last offseason when the Tigers were looking to trade a pitcher. Nats GM Mike Rizzo was the scouting director in Arizona when the Diamondbacks drafted Scherzer in 2006. The Nationals were not willing to give up the haul Detroit wanted, so they shifted their attention to Doug Fister.

Ironically, the Nationals could end up trading another starting pitcher to make room for Scherzer in the rotation and on the payroll. Whether the Tigers, who have traded so many prospects since last summer that their rankings have been updated many times over, would be an interested party is an interesting question, though Dombrowski has said they like their starters.

Dombrowski also said Friday that they weren’t in active pursuit of any free-agent starter. That was in the wake of the rumor involving James Shields, whose agent was in recent contact with the Tigers according to Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com.

Also, if the Nationals — or any other team — signs Scherzer, the Tigers would receive a compensation pick near the end of the first round.

On Scherzer, Shields and leverage

As Spring Training starts to become visible on the horizon of the baseball calendar, the questions in baseball circles become louder: What’s going on with Max Scherzer? What’s going on with James Shields? Is anybody going after them? Has anybody heard anything?

The free-agent market has had plenty of top names still available at this point in the offseason over the years. That’s nothing new. It’s less common to have two big names — two of the biggest names on the market going into the offseason, at that — in this situation.

It’s rare for those two still on the market to play the same position. It’s stranger still that no team has been tied to both players, seemingly trying to play one against the other. Between different ages, workloads and resumes, they’ve always been viewed as appealing to different markets.

It was under that backdrop that Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB Network chimed in Friday afternoon amidst the flurry of arbitration signings.

So much for not having one team linked to both pitchers. Whether it’s a genuine pursuit or a leverage play remains to be seen.

Detroit has been tied to Scherzer for months — oftentimes for good reason, and other times simply by default. With nobody else identifying themselves as a suitor, the Tigers have been viewed as the favorites to sign Scherzer, even as team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and other Tigers official downplay the chances.

Dombrowski added another entry there this week at the MLB owners meetings, where Ken Davidoff of the New York Post asked him again about the possibility of bringing back Scherzer.

“I would say no, probably not,” Dombrowski told Davidoff.

It was a stronger statement than previous remarks. It was still not a definite no.

On the flip side, 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 this offseason, were befuddled at the idea.

Yet in mid-January, as the Scherzer market stagnates, the rumor leaked.

Dombrowski, who has a policy of not talking about free agents from other clubs, said in email later Friday that the Tigers are not in active pursuit of any starting pitchers right now. It’s the same stance they’ve had in regards to Scherzer rumors, but with Scherzer, it did more to suggest a waiting game. No active pursuit? Fine. No interest? No chance? Those have never been said, even this week. With Scherzer, his agent Scott Boras, and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, there has always seemingly been a chance for a deal.

Those ties aren’t there with Shields. Ilitch has a history of working out late offseason deals with Boras, and a history of loyalty to those who win for him. While Scherzer has that, Shields does not. He does not have the same track record, for that matter.

Shields is 2 1/2 years older than Scherzer, with nearly 700 more innings pitched. For that reason and others, he has always been expected to garner a shorter, team-friendlier contract, though a five-year contract for Shields would take him to the same age as a seven-year contract would for Scherzer. That has also widened Shields’ market and set up the potential for a bidding competition when the market does get moving.

For all the risks with Scherzer, one can still envision the Tigers make room for a return, for either Ilitch to stretch the payroll and pay luxury tax for a year or for Dombrowski to trade Price to make room. It’s tougher to see the Tigers going to those lengths for Shields, who will turn 34 years old when Price is eligible for free agency next winter. Shields might be more affordable than Scherzer, but that still doesn’t mean the Tigers can afford him and Price long term.

Bottom line, it’s difficult to see Shields suddenly fitting with the Tigers. It’s not as difficult to see a call to Shields — active pursuit or no — acting as a catalyst on Scherzer. Time will tell.

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