Detroit Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski said Saturday the team is in negotiations with left-handed pitcher David Price about a long-term contract. Dombrowski noted in the interview with ESPN's Jim Bowden on XM 89, that he "wants to keep negotiations quiet" and hopes that Price "will be a Tiger for a long time."
But with Dombrowski leaking the current negotiations with Price to the media, he is doing anything but keeping them quiet, and it could be a sign that the Tigers aren't willing to hand out another nine-figure contract. Price, the top pitcher in what looks to be a loaded group of free agent starters next offseason, will likely command a contract in the neighborhood of the seven-year, $210 million contract Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals last offseason.
The Tigers already have $104 million committed to just five players for the 2016 season. A reasonable extension for Price would push them over $130 million for six players, or more than the expected 2015 Opening Day payrolls of any other team in the AL Central. Price may not command the $210 million that Scherzer got -- half of that contract is deferred until after 2021, for what it's worth -- but he should receive a similar average annual value.
Speaking of Scherzer, Dombrowski's comments seem similar, though not quite as loud as the statement the Tigers released last spring when they did not reach an agreement with Scherzer prior to the righthander's cutoff point in March 2014. While various outlets reported that the Tigers were still in on negotiations with Scherzer throughout the winter, that press release seemed to be the "last gasp" of sorts for the Tigers. It also turned into a public relations jab at Scherzer, whose massive contract made him look greedy in the eyes of many fans.
Manager Brad Ausmus named Price the Tigers' Opening Day starter over Justin Verlander on Friday. Price is in the final season of his current contract and will be a free agent next winter, unless he and the club agree on an extension beforehand.
Price led all of baseball with 248 1/3 innings pitched last season. He sported a 15-12 record with a 3.26 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 34 starts between the Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays. He also led all pitchers with 271 strikeouts, marking both the highest total and highest rate of his career.
Price also maintained the advances in command he demonstrated in 2013, walking fewer than four percent of the 1,009 batters he faced last year. Price made the American League All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. The Tigers acquired Price minutes before the conclusion off the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for Austin Jackson (who was sent to the Seattle Mariners), Drew Smyly and prospect Willy Adames.
Dombrowski acknowledged earlier this offseason that the Price acquisition was made in anticipation of Scherzer departing via free agency. With Price and right-hander Alfredo Simon entering free agency after 2015, signing a starter will be one of Dombrowski's highest priorities next offseason.