Max Scherzer was supposed to be the Tigers' offseason prize, in a way. Prince Fielder and Doug Fister were dealt to free up money, partially, and the scuttlebutt was that the money was going to go to Scherzer. The Tigers and their most recent Cy Young winner almost had a Mariano Rivera vibe -- even when the Yankees closer was a free agent, no one really thought they were getting him. Scherzer and the Tigers were inexorably linked, and it's not like the Tigers weren't going to spend money to keep him.
It was a garish mating dance. The Tigers made big moves and flashed peacock feathers, looking straight in the eyes of Scherzer and his agent, letting them know that, yes, oh yes, the Tigers were very interested. It seemed like it was the point of the offseason, even ahead of shoring up the team for the present.
Was the agent impressed?
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The agent was not impressed. The Tigers took the unusual move of sending out a press release to explain the non-contract. It read something like, "We tried, everyone. But Max Scherzer and Scott Boras are being super greedy," but it was phrased a touch more delicately. Turns out that Boras interpreted the garish dance as evidence the Tigers really, really wanted his client, and he used that as leverage to extract more money. Well, I never.
Don't forget, though, that the Tigers spent the Fister money a while ago, giving it to Joe Nathan. It's like the old saying, "Why keep an extremely valuable starting pitcher when you can get a 39-year-old closer instead?" So the plan wasn't all about Scherzer. There were reinforcements for the present. The offseason plan was …
The thing about the Tigers' offseason plan was …
The Tigers spent the offseason working on their plan, which ...
I have no idea what the Tigers' offseason plan was.
If the offseason was supposed to be about keeping Scherzer, there's no way they would balk at a seventh year. If a team's planning to keep a Boras client away from free agency -- in a year where the second-best pitcher available will be James Shields and the third-best might be a well-rested Barry Zito -- that team knows they need to pay top-of-the-market prices. Looking around at all of the sub-Kershaw aces gives a pretty clear idea of what it takes to keep a pitcher like Scherzer around. Seven years, lots of clams.
If it was supposed to be about reinforcing an aging division-winner, there was no reason to trade a valuable rotation piece for a prospect and a closer. Even if you assume Dave Dombrowski is playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers, you still get to point out that he's riding his knight around the room and making horsie sounds. It might be genius, but it sure looks like crazy from here.
If it was supposed to be about winning at all costs, while still fortifying for the future, where's the winning at all costs? There was no Shin-Soo Choo, no Jacoby Ellsbury. There was Nathan and a lot of faith in Andy Dirks, before he got hurt. There was money shipped out in the present to help with future salaries that haven't materialized yet.
It was a jack of all offseasons, master of none. The Tigers just traded for Alex Gonzalez. It doesn't matter which one. It was a cry for help. The ambiguous offseason is even stranger when you think of how unambiguous it should be. The Tigers are the win-nowiest team that ever tried to win now. Their best hitters are all 30 or over. They have a good rotation now, when in three years it could look like Halladay/Hamels/Oswalt does now. If the Cardinals or Red Sox lost their starting shortstop for the season, they would have Stephen Drew right now, draft pick be damned. It's what the Braves did with Ervin Santana.
Instead, the Tigers aren't concerned with shortstop. They don't mind the Dirks/Don Kelly mashup in the outfield. Whatever happens happens, you know? Just let things come to you and stop stressing out, man. It's all going to work itself out, just calm down. Can you believe that someone was just going to throw that Alex Gonzalez out?
This isn't really about Scherzer, either, because it's nonsense to lock up any player after a career season. The Tigers are right to balk at a franchise-player deal for Scherzer because he's had exactly one season of franchise-player performance in his 28 years on the planet. But it sure seemed like the Tigers had made the decision to commit, considering how they approached the offseason. Instead, they shipped out a starter, made do in the outfield, committed to a young third baseman who probably can't play third, and went dumpster diving after their young shortstop suffered a serious injury.
They're still the favorites in the division. But what a peculiar offseason. And considering the odds of signing Scherzer went way down over the weekend, it's already looking like the Tigers have a head start on a peculiar offseason for next year, too.
Joe Nathan was drafted as a shortstop, you know.