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It's official: Tigers no longer real contenders

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DETROIT – How ironic. Three years ago, almost to the day, the Tigers held a press conference announcing a prized free-agent signing.

That's right. First baseman Prince Fielder passed on the Washington Nationals' offer and instead took the Tigers' $214-million, mega deal.

Motown was abuzz. One of the city's own was back. Fielder, who grew up in Detroit while his dad, Cecil, was a star for the Tigers, was supposed to be the missing piece for the team's first World Series championship since 1984.

The Tigers were the talk of baseball. They were spending money with the big boys, acting like a major market, not a midsized one.

Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch - a winner of Stanley Cups with his Red Wings - wanted to win for the city and finally for himself. It meant the Tigers were all the way in. He would do anything necessary to compete, win a title. Cash was no issue.

Clearly, that's not the case anymore.

The Nationals signing of free-agent stud starter Max Scherzer to a whopping seven-year, $210 million deal is a clear sign that the Tigers are out.

Yes, out.

Detroit isn't a real contender anymore. And most of all, the Tigers won't do anything it takes to win.

Let's face it: They never fought to keep Scherzer. Yes, they offered Scherzer an undervalued six-year, $144 million deal last spring training. Some thought Mad Max was crazy not to take it. Scherzer knew he could get more and did, much more.

But in the free agency process, the Tigers threw in the towel early, admitting they couldn't compete for their own pitcher's services. They wanted a hometown discount.

At Scherzer's press conference in DC, he was asked what led him to sign with Washington. "One: winning," Scherzer said. "I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot.

"When you look at the near term and the long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of."

That had to sting for Tigers fans.

The Tigers just didn't let Scherzer, a former Cy Young winner, go. They also traded away starter Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox. Their rotation, once the crown piece of the franchise, is weaker. Much weaker. Right now, the Tigers will replaced Scherzer and Porcello with virtual unknowns - Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon.

The Tigers' strength is now somewhat suspect, even with Justin Verlander and David Price still on the staff. Plus, Anibal Sanchez, who never seems to stay healthy, will be back.

Nonetheless, no matter how you look at it, the Tigers' rotation is worse.

"We're happy with what we have," Tigers president Dave Dombroski said to the media on Thursday. "And we've been planning along this line for an extended period of time."

The Tigers couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs with three former Cy Young winners on their staff last season, getting swept by the Baltimore Orioles.

And the AL Central that the Tigers have owned the last four years isn't a piece of cake, either. The Royals went to the World Series last year. The Indians are tough. Plus, the White Sox got much better in the offseason and Minnesota improved slightly.

We haven't even talked about the Tigers' bullpen issues that killed the team down the stretch a year ago. The pen isn't better, either.

In the last four years, the Tigers weren't just the favorite to win the Central, but the whole thing. The Tigers were picked often to win the World Series.

It won't be the case in 2015.

The subtraction of talent is just too great. Plus, there are a lot of question marks and wishful thinking that some players will return to greatness again, especially Verlander.

The Tigers' game plan has certainly changed. Money is an object. The Tigers have to watch their purse strings because of that new hockey arena that's going up downtown.

That's where the big bucks are going - for the Red Wings' new home.

The Tigers will be on the back burner, have a cap. They are no longer the No. 1 focus. If they win, great. If not, oh well.

If you don't believe that, check the rotation. Scherzer has been replaced by Greene.