"The economics of the game have never been better, [which] proves that investment in players, star players, is the way to go. The fact is if an owner wants to win there are premium players out there. And we know the revenues are there for them to pursue them."
Max Scherzer was a deserving winner of the 2013 American League Cy Young Award and the follow up campaign promised to be a great test for Scherzer as he entered his contractual walk-year. Scherzer's 21-3 record with a 2.90 ERA was complemented with an fWAR of 6.4. That's a tough act to follow.
On top of the pressures of following a CYA-season was the news breaking in March that Scherzer had turned down the Tigers offer for a massive contract extension. "6-years/$144M" has now become the publicly accepted figure which Scherzer and his agent, Scott Boras, elected to pass on. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski took the step of publicly airing the laundry of the failed negotiations, calling it "a record turn down".
By passing on that offer Scherzer was choosing to gamble on his talents and health being able to carry through into the off-season. The free market for his abilities was beckoning and another big season could see Scherzer's market explode beyond the Tigers offer. Scherzer did take out an insurance policy in case the worst happened to shield himself financially to some degree.
Public opinion seemed fairly split. Some observers seemed fine with the idea of a player's desire to market himself freely. Others seemed put off that a player would turn down the chance to commit himself to the Tigers for the long haul at such a generous figure. Another subset of fans were relieved that the Tigers didn't get embroiled with another long contract to a pitcher north of 30 years old given the rocky performance of Justin Verlander after his long-term commitment.
The 2014 Campaign
How Scherzer's performance in 2014 is judged probably is determined by what camp you joined after the news broke that he was turning down Dombrowski's offer. If you were okay with Max's decision, you can probably look at the numbers and feel he followed up his CYA season in fine fashion.
If you were a bit put off by Scherzer's decision, it's easy to look at some figures and isolate a few stretches of games and say "ahhh...he wasn't really an Ace anyhow".
For me, Scherzer's season was very solid and simply further confirmed how valuable he has become for the Tigers.
Scherzer tossed a career high 220 1/3 innings and saw very little change in many key statistics from the year before. An 18-5 W/L record was backed up by an excellent fWAR of 5.6. His K% and BB% were both right in range with his virtuoso '13 season. Scherzer's ERA ticked up from 2.90 to 3.15 in '14 mostly due to a BABIP increase of 56 points from '13 (.259 in '13, .315 in '14).
For batted ball data, we also see many similarities between the two seasons. The same groundball rate, a few less flyballs, a few more line drives. No statistic really screams out a big change for Scherzer's performance in 2014.
Scherzer pitched his first career complete game in Chicago on June 12 with a 3-hit shutout. In total he would pitch 7+ innings in 17 of 33 starts for the season.
Scherzer's finest outing of the year may have been a 14 strikeout/3 hit/0 run performance in an August 14th victory over the Pirates.
There were hiccups of course. Just about any pitcher who takes the ball 33 times will have some bad outings.
The Royals crushed Scherzer at Comerica in June for 10 runs in 4 innings. It was a game where the hits just came relentlessly...it wasn't long after that whispers of Alex Avila tipping pitches started to circulate. More likely, Scherzer simply stunk that night.
On May 21st in Cleveland two misplayed pop flys by Danny Worth were not called errors but directly led to 6 runs in two innings charged to Scherzer. Where Scherzer gets some blame that day is that he failed to pitch around at least one of the gaffes to pick up Worth. (This was the "Balk Off Game" for Al Alburquerque)
In the heat of the pennant race, Scherzer was staked to a 3-0 lead in Chicago against Chris Sale. However Sale steadied himself to quiet the Tigers from there while Scherzer was taken deep twice and despite fanning 11 ChiSox batters saw the lead fritter away.
So we can pick and choose some individual performances to praise or criticize. However the overall body of work is the same as its been in previous seasons. Scherzer is a stud you can build a rotation around. Whether you want to call him a #1 or a #2 is all in the eye of the beholder. I'd just rather have him around instead of going up against him.
The expectations for a Cy Young winner are very high, so it was hard to earn an "A" for Scherzer in 2014. However he also displayed no real regression and shouldered a career high burden of innings. The Tigers needed Scherzer to be great again if they were going to win another AL Central title and he was.
Once again, he proved to be a very durable arm who takes the ball on schedule. The whispers upon his arrival in 2010 that the Diamondbacks were worried he would break down with his "violent delivery" are now long buried from the forefront of anyone's mind.
Whatever "pressures" his contract situation put on him didn't really seem to affect his performance and he heads into the off-season looking for the payday he has earned.
Scherzer heads into a rather crowded free agent market. Barring any major extensions prior to the free agent signing period opening, Scherzer will be shopping himself against Jon Lester, James Shields at the higher end of the market forming the "Big Three".
There is also a second tier of solid starters who will be floating out there such as Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez, and Francisco Liriano among others if teams elect not to jockey for one of the Big Three. A possible wildcard is also Japanese star Kenta Maeda. If Maeda gets posted, he will attract interest as well to draw some cash away.
Scherzer should have no shortage of suitors. The Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers and others should be checking in with Boras regularly to gauge Scherzer's market. The chances that Scherzer surpasses the Tigers offer from March seem to be fairly high.
Will the Tigers make one more concerted effort to keep Scherzer in the fold? I believe they will. One more offer is lurking in my opinion and it will, of course, be substantial. The Tigers are still going to be a club built on starting pitching and locking in Scherzer makes sense based on how Dombrowski has shaped this club.
The Tigers do have the ability to lock up David Price or even Rick Porcello however. They don't have to go to the mat to keep Scherzer. If Artie Moreno is throwing around truly obscene cash, the Tigers can opt out and move in another direction.
However...if the Tigers were willing to commit $144M to Scherzer in March, nothing he did on the mound in 2014 should change their mind that he's worth the move. If the number only creeps up into the 160's, Detroit can play in the game.
The Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez to his deal after the free agent period opened. He was free to go anywhere. The Tigers stepped up and got him. Will they do it again for Max Scherzer? I think they might just get it done.