"The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that would have placed him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected," the team said in a statement on Sunday.
"As we have reiterated, it has been the organization's intent to extend Max's contract and keep him in a Tigers uniform well beyond the 2014 season. While this offer would have accomplished that, the ballclub's (sic) focus remains on the start of the upcoming season, and competing for a World Championship. Moving forward there will be no further in-season negotiation and the organization will refrain from commenting on this matter."
Focus on that last line. "Moving forward… the organization will refrain from commenting on this matter." That's a line that has rarely, if ever, been necessary since 2003, when Dave Dombrowski and his team of stealth ninjas took over the Tigers front office. Public contract negotiations? Not that I can remember. There haven't even been many trade rumors before a deal is actually completed.
Why did the organization feel the need to speak about the Scherzer non-deal then? Why did they need us to know that, "Hey, we tried"? The obvious comes to mind. Nobody wants to see Max go, he was the best pitcher on the team and in the American League last season. But, really, what makes this situation particularly different? $157.4 million. No, that's not the contract offer the Tigers reportedly made to Scherzer (six years, $144 million per Jon Morosi), that's the Tigers' 2014 payroll obligation according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. It's the highest in team history, just as last season's $148.6 million obligation was. The Tigers division competitors this season aren't even close to approaching that type of payroll. Cleveland's payroll is $76.7 million this year and Kansas City is a bit more at $89.3 million, with free agent to be James Shields hogging $13.5 million.
Why am I still talking about the payroll? Well, the Tigers have to be thinking about it. They have to think they can find a way to spend less money in the future and still beat the Royals and the Indians out for the division title. If the Tigers didn't have a payroll limit, I'd be writing about what Shin-soo Choo has done in spring training and breaking down a real Scherzer extension. There's nothing inherently wrong with having a payroll limit, every team but a select few have them. Prior to 2005, the Tigers had spent more than $55 million on the team's payroll just once. This season will mark the fifth time in the past seven years that Detroit will pay more than $133 million in payroll obligations.
The team has spent and continues to spend a lot of money. Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are locked up for the foreseeable future. Miguel Cabrera and, less importantly, Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, and Alex Avila are free agents after the 2015 season. Jon Heyman reports that the Tigers are talking about an extension with Cabrera now and there's "early optimism" that a deal will get done. That makes sense to me as Cabrera, two years away from free agency and coming off back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards, is more likely to be accepting of an extension at this time than Scherzer and the Tigers are more likely to pony up the dough for him. He's Miguel Cabrera, after all. It's also worth noting that Verlander was two years away from free agency when he signed what amounted to a five year extension worth $140 million.
That's all well and fine, but the press release the Tigers put out still seems unnecessary at best. Oh, Scherzer rejected your offer? Well, of course he did. The Tigers $144 million dollar offer isn't even where the Scherzer negotiations will begin next offseason should he make it through the season without a career-altering injury (knocks on all wood). The Tigers offered the same deal Cole Hamels of the Phillies accepted in 2012. Last season, according to FanGraphs, Scherzer had a 6.4 WAR season. Hamels' best season is 4.6, which is identical to Scherzer's 2012 WAR. So, over the last two seasons, Scherzer has been worth 11 WAR, again by FanGraphs, which ranks fourth in all of baseball behind only Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw signed the most recent contract of that trio a few months ago, a seven year extension with an opt out after five years at $30.7 Average Annual Value. And, though Kershaw is four years younger than Scherzer, he wasn't even a free agent. One team was bidding on him, albeit a team with all the money, but that team still gave him all the money before even allowing him to test the market. No one should begrudge Scherzer for having a similar expectation. Given that super-agent Scott Boras is his representation, it should be no surprise that the $144 million offer was declined.
"Max Scherzer made a substantial long-term contract extension offer to the Detroit Tigers that would have placed him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected by Detroit," Boras told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick. "Max is very happy with the city of Detroit, the fans and his teammates, and we will continue negotiating with the Tigers at season's end."
Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you! Don't get into a pissing match with Boras or he will drink you under the table... or something. That metaphor was doomed from the start. Anyway, my shoes are wet. I mean, gah, what do you think Boras and Scherzer's offer to the Tigers was? Surely, it wasn't a reasonable a deal that they'd be willing to accept at this point or they'd have done so. Most likely, it was pretty wild and crazy. If I had to guess, it was a nine figure offer that started with a two and not a one.
It's hardly foolish for the Tigers to break off negotiations at that point, perhaps get an extension done with Cabrera, see how Scherzer does this season, evaluate the state of the team with Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez also set to hit the market at the end of the season, and potentially make a run at Max in November. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's a plan that makes a lot more sense than some of what took place this past offseason (and boy does it ever feel good just to type that the offseason is over? Yes, yes it does).
Still, the Tigers really could have done a lot better than the press release they put out on Sunday. It was a poor choice and uncharacteristic for the typically first class organization. In breaking off negotiations until after the season, though, I don't believe either side made a poor choice.