Tigers, Scherzer table talks until end of season

Two sides will not negotiate in-season; righty likely headed for free agency

March 23rd, 2014

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Max Scherzer's contract year with Detroit is about to begin. The Tigers announced Sunday that talks have ended on a contract extension and won't resume during the season, essentially guaranteeing the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner will become a free agent at season's end.

Not only will they head into the season without an agreement, they'll do so with a disagreement on who ended what.

President/general manager Dave Dombrowski spoke with reporters Sunday morning -- and the team later released a statement -- saying that the club made Scherzer a "substantial offer." Once that offer was declined, the two sides agreed to end talks for the spring.

"It was a very substantial offer that would place him among the highest-paid pitchers in the game," Dombrowski said.

Shortly after that, Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, told MLB.com and other outlets Sunday afternoon that there was an offer from their side, too, that was declined.

"Max Scherzer made a substantial long-term contract offer," Boras said in a phone conversation, "and it was rejected by the Tigers. It would've placed him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball."

If it seems like Boras' words closely resembled the Tigers' statement, it wasn't a coincidence. Boras said the negotiation process was a matter of offers and counteroffers, with no resolutions.

"We made the Tigers an offer, and they didn't take it. It's the same arena," Boras said. "I just wanted the fans to know. Max made them an offer, too. That's how this thing works."

Neither Dombrowski, Scherzer nor Boras got into details on the contract. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports cited an anonymous source pegging the offer at six years and $144 million, the same terms as Cole Hamels' extension two years ago. Hamels, like Scherzer, entered his contract year before agreeing to an extension, though the Hamels deal has an option for a seventh year that can vest based on innings pitched and health.

"I don't want to get into specifics about how negotiations went, because I feel like it's a private matter," Scherzer said. "But I think they respect where I'm at, I respect where they're at, and we'll revisit this after the season.

"This doesn't change anything. I still want to be in Detroit. I love this clubhouse and everything about it. There's been a history in the past of the team signing free agents, so hopefully I'm part of that history as well."

Both sides had said going in that they did not want to negotiate during the season. Dombrowski said they set a soft deadline for this past Wednesday -- the lone off-day of camp -- to determine whether a deal was realistic.

Dombrowski said they did not want to be negotiating a new deal for Scherzer while sorting out the roster at the same time, though they were able to get a contract extension done for Verlander in the final days of camp last year. Verlander signed two years shy of free agency, while Scherzer is a year away.

"We really started to negotiate during the spring," Dombrowski said, meaning the start of the Grapefruit League schedule at the end of February. "I talked to Scott a couple times myself, and then about a week before that [off-day] date, we made them what we figured was our top offer, our final offer at that point. He got back to me, I guess, the night before that [deadline]."

Within that month or so of negotiations, Dombrowski said, the two sides had "a lot of back and forth."

Dombrowski would not get into the terms that were discussed, other than it would've put Scherzer among the top pitchers in the game.

"We probably negotiated more and gave some things that we thought would get deals done that didn't get it done," he said.

A team statement said the offer was rejected. Dombrowski stopped short of that term in his remarks, saying "turned down" and "not accepted."

"I'm not expressing any tone in my voice, because I understand it's their right to do whatever they would like," Dombrowski said.

He did, however, sound a tone of surprise that the two sides ultimately couldn't find common ground. Part of the reason behind the Tigers' run of success is their ability to target and sign players long term. When some free agents still proved reluctant to come to Detroit in past years, they overcame it by convincing players to sign extensions and stay, from Miguel Cabrera to Anibal Sanchez to Verlander.

If Scherzer leaves next winter, he'd be the first player the Tigers targeted and lost in a while. Considering Scherzer has talked regularly about how much he loves Detroit, though, his decision seemed more about the potential of hitting the open market than it was about where he's at.

"It just didn't get done now," Scherzer said. "We felt like we should revisit this after the season, that would be best. I've said it, I'll keep saying it, I want to be in Detroit. I've really enjoyed my time here. I really enjoy the clubhouse and everyone that's involved. I know we have a great team here, so I'm not saying the grass is greener on the other side. But at the end of the day, I want to play this out and continue to go forward and see what happens after 2014."

When asked what to tell worried fans, Scherzer said, "Don't worry. Only worry when I actually sign somewhere else."

Boras, too, left the door open to renew talks at season's end. He added that the he-said, he-said with Dombrowski would have no impact on those talks or any other dealings.

"Dave and I have a good working relationship," Boras said.

Scherzer should not have a shortage of suitors. He's in position to go from a Cy Young Award winner to the open market about a year apart. Barring a serious drop in production, he's expected to be one of the top free agents at any position, and likely the top pitcher available in a deep market.

Royals ace James Shields, Indians ace Justin Masterson and Boston's Jon Lester all are entering contract years as well. Shields is expected to become a free agent, while Cleveland and Masterson announced earlier this week that they would shelve talks on an extension for now.

Given the recent contracts signed for top starting pitchers, the lure is obvious. Reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension in January. Verlander signed a seven-year, $180 million extension a year ago at this time, shortly after Felix Hernandez signed a seven-year, $175 million extension to stay in Seattle.

"I'm not motivated by this," Scherzer said. "The only thing that motivates me is winning, and that's the beautiful thing about being here in Detroit is we have a chance to win. Whatever you do, pushing yourself for the team is the only thing you need to have on your mind. ... All the off-the-field stuff takes care of itself."

Dombrowski did not want to characterize the chance of reaching a deal with Scherzer in the upcoming offseason. But with other clubs open to bidding, Dombrowski said, "I don't know what's going to happen."

What it means for the Tigers' long-term planning is equally unclear. When discussing the desire to keep Scherzer last fall, Dombrowski talked about building around a core group of starting pitchers, much like the Braves did in the 1990s. If Scherzer signs elsewhere, the Tigers would have Verlander and Sanchez under long-term contracts, with Rick Porcello entering his contract year in 2015 and Drew Smyly reaching arbitration eligibility.

Scherzer, who's making $15,525,000 this season in his final year of arbitration, is one of a handful of potential free agents the Tigers have this winter, joining Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain.