Players and teams negotiate for long term contracts all the time. They reach the beginning of the season without deals being reached frequently. Also, frequently, players state that they will not negotiate during the season. There is nothing particularly unusual about any of that. So why are the Tigers making a point to throw Max Scherzer under the bus?
That’s really the only way to construe yesterday’s statement from the team about the end of its negotiations with Scherzer. It was worded more or less politely, but the clear and unambiguous message was “Max Scherzer and his agent are greedy and if he’s not a Tiger after 2014, it’s his fault, so don’t blame us, Tigers fans!”
Such a position used to be common in the bad old days when players would hold out so they could make, say, $40,000 a year instead of $35,000. Or even up through the first decade or two of free agency, when owners still routinely played off fans’ view that players are inherently greedy and are asking for unreasonable money to play a kid’s game. But even if a lot of fans still harbor those sentiments, it’s been some times since owners and general managers wised up to the business of baseball and abstained from playing that disingenuously populist card. Sure, there are always isolated examples, but it has been at least since the last contentious Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation in 2002 that teams stopped doing that as a rule. At least as explicitly as the Tigers are doing here with Scherzer.
The Tigers are under no obligation to pay Scherzer what he wants, of course, but why the statement? Why change up things and draw such a public line in the sand with the reigning Cy Young Award winner? What do the Tigers hope to gain here? What are they accomplishing with this that remaining publicly neutral or even silent about the status of negotiations wouldn’t accomplish?
Often times I have some speculative answer to that kind of question. In this case I am totally baffled.