Tigers, Max Scherzer acting rationally in postponing contract negotiations

After a lot of words from all the parties were traded Sunday morning, nothing has changed for the Tigers or their reigning Cy Young Award winner.

News that the Tigers and Max Scherzer ceased negotiations on a contract extension comes as no surprise. News that the Tigers offered Scherzer a fairly large amount of money and he still turned it down comes as no surprise, either. Players represented by Scott Boras almost always follow this script.

And who among us could really blame them? After some number of years spent in the minor leagues and then six seasons earning less than market value with no choice where we play, who among us wouldn't like to feel like we have a say in the matter? So, Scherzer turned down a lot of money, with figures said to be at least $24 million per year but less than the $25.7 Justin Verlander makes. The length of the contract was not specified and is most likely the dividing factor between the player and club.

(Hint: If you're a fan of the Tigers, you want this to be fewer years. If you're either Scott Boras, related to Max Scherzer, or a fan of another team that hopes the largesse of the Tigers' budget pulls them into the depths of mediocrity when the aging curve catches up, you want it to be more years. Little good can come to the club from a deal that lasts too long.)

The only real surprise today came the moment the Tigers released a public statement that said a little too much:

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. 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 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."

That, to me, came as a shock. That did not seem to come from the modus operandi of the club I've followed closely for all these years. Not that there's anything inherently wrong about what they said. It's just that a typical response from Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski might sound closer to "we do not negotiate in the press." This sure sounds like negotiating in the press.

Boras? He's a guy who talks in the press. He sells his clients like a used car salesman sells you an "04 or newer." He'll put public pressure on a club trying to go against his will. He will tell anyone who'll listen that he's analyzed the club's needs, and if they're really as serious about winning as they tell the fans, his client is the only guy who can get the job done. That doesn't make Boras a bad guy -- it just makes him really good at what he does.

What's the end-game here?

There are two ways to approach this. The first is that Detroit has just had a PR snafu. The reason the club keeps its collective mouth shut generally is that it operates best behind closed doors. What has brought Dombrowski out of his back room and into the light of the media? Some have suggested anger or annoyance at Boras. But this is a man he's used to negotiating with. The Tigers and Boras have a long track record of working together. It's hard to buy emotion as being behind this move. But it's a possibility any time humans are involved, and it's possible the Tigers just made a PR mistake. That's on the table.

The remaining idea is that the Tigers are speaking directly to their fans and nothing more. This is no negotiating ploy at all. After the Tigers first traded Prince Fielder, then sent Doug Fister to Washington for a pair of left-handed pitchers and a utility infielder, the idea the team was paring down its payroll took hold. In truth, the Tigers are cutting back on their future payroll liabilities. That was a necessary move for a club that couldn't move into the $200 million range but still hopes to compete not just for division titles, but for World Series titles. Not re-signing Scherzer due to cost might add to that storyline and cost the Tigers' bottom line through a loss of getting fans into the ballpark.

The Tigers leave no doubt that money isn't the problem here. Scherzer would be earning less than Clayton Kershaw ($30.7 million annual average value), Verlander ($25.7m), and Felix Hernandez ($25m), and probably in the neighborhood of CC Sabathia ($24.4), Cliff Lee ($24m) and Cole Hamels ($24m), per MLBTR. Fans in the know should actually be proud of the team for its financial restraint, especially ones who remember how handing out too long of contracts at too high of cost nearly hamstrung the team in 2009 and later.

The only conclusion is that everyone is acting rationally here. Scherzer and Boras believe he can earn more money this offseason. The Tigers believe they've valued a contract correctly and anything more would hurt the club. They've signaled to their fans that money isn't an issue. And nothing said by any of the principle actors precludes Scherzer from returning to the team in future years.

Scherzer said as much this morning:

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. (via MLive)

It was a weird morning, to be certain, with statements and quotes flying. But to read anything into it would be a mistake.

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