DETROIT -- Dave Dombrowski spent most of the past couple weeks focused on finding a closer. The Tigers president/general manager didn't want to discuss what else they might add until he took care of that.
With Joe Nathan now in a Tigers uniform, the closer is on board. The next direction Dombrowski looks for a big contract might be inward.
As Dombrowski talked about the benefit of payroll flexibility while introducing Nathan on Wednesday at Comerica Park, he alluded that the flexibility will go in part for their internal concerns.
"A very big part of what we were trying to accomplish [was] to get a closer," Dombrowski said. "And when I say that, sometimes you need some flexibility to make some other things happen, too. We do have some players that are on the verge of being free agents that are pretty big players for us, that you want to create some flexibility there to be in the right spot at various times."
For Max Scherzer, the time is likely this winter or never. For Miguel Cabrera and potentially several others, the time is likely coming soon after. And the more Dombrowski talked about the offseason, the more he alluded to the importance of keeping the core intact.
As he talked about the importance of winning now while maintaining success, he talked about the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s as the model for long-term consistency. Those teams won 14 consecutive division titles.
"One thing you notice with Atlanta, they had a lot of changed pieces," Dombrowski said. "Just look at them throughout the years. But they had [Greg] Maddux and [John] Smoltz and [Tom] Glavine and Chipper Jones. And look at all the other guys they had around them. They had guys that starred for a while, got in there and got out, but they always had the consistent basis of those three starters, year in and year out.
"They had [Steve] Avery who was good and [Kevin] Millwood, and some of them left, some of them became free agents and some of them got traded. But they always had the same main three guys. And so the reality is you can't always have five because then you can't build your club."
The Tigers have two top starters, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, under long-term contracts. A contract extension for Scherzer would give them that Big Three around which they could build their team.
Nothing is imminent, Dombrowski cautioned, but he expects to approach it at some point soon. He cannot predict the answer, especially given agent Scott Boras' tendency to prefer the open market as the way for pitchers to maximize their contract value, but he sees mutual interest.
"I cannot answer for Scott Boras, but the only thing I would say is I believe Max wants to stay here," Dombrowski said. "When I say that, I know finances and contracts [come up].
"He likes it here. We like him a lot. We'd like to keep him here. Will that lead us to a contract? I don't know. When will those conversations take place? I'm not sure. I know that Scott's got a lot of other free-agent players that he's talking about at this time, but he's a guy that we'd like to keep."
Boras just negotiated a seven-year contract for his top free agent, new Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. He has another top free-agent outfielder, Shin-Soo Choo, who has been reported as a top Tigers target. Dombrowski didn't address Choo by name, and he didn't rule out anything, but he downplayed expectations for a major free-agent signing.
"I would think that we would not be involved in the big [names on the free-agent market]," Dombrowski said.
If their next major signing was Scherzer, he would be happy.
"That would be a good sign," he said. "I don't mean to imply that that's imminent either, but I'd be thrilled if Max Schrezer was in a position that he stayed on board with us for an extended time."