Max Scherzer is no doubt this year’s best free agent on the market. Scherzer is reportedly asking for $200 million on the open market, and why not? He’s an ace pitcher. He’s won a Cy Young award. He strikes out a million batters every year. Everyone wants a pitcher like Max Scherzer; except, there’s a very distinct possibility that they don’t. I kid you not when I say that I’m serious in suggesting that there are no teams interested in signing Scherzer.
First, let’s establish a potential list of suitors. We’ll work off any team who is expected to be a contender and will likely spend over $100 million (I’ll leave out the Cubs, who signed Jon Lester and are unlikely to pursue another free agent pitcher of that caliber). This criteria makes sense since a team would have to have a lot of money to fit Scherzer’s contract within their budget and such a signing would be a waste if the team wasn’t expected to contend. Using this criteria gives us this list of potential suitors for the Tigers ace:
- Detroit Tigers
- Boston Red Sox
- Los Angeles Angels
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- New York Yankees
- San Francisco Giants
- Seattle Mariners
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Texas Rangers
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Washington Nationals
That’s eleven teams. That’s a whole lot of teams that could potentially sign Scherzer. Surely some of those teams will actually have demand for him, right? Well, for starters, let’s take the Mariners, Cardinals, and Angels off that list right from the get go. The Mariners boasted baseball’s second best pitching staff in all of baseball last year by ERA, and have a more pressing need for offense than they do run prevention. They are already venturing into unchartered territory by pushing north of $100 million in payroll obligations, so it makes a lot of sense to not consider them an option for Scherzer.
The Cardinals, with a rotation of Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, and Carlos Martinez have a surplus of starting pitching that is talented enough to make anyone envious. Sure there are some concerns with health and durability here, but that’s still a very talented rotation. Even if it appears the stars are aligning to allow a pursuit of Scherzer, the fact remains that the Cardinals have a surplus of young pitchers who could all contribute at a high level.
The Angels may make a little more sense considering their rotation isn’t as deep and they freed up some money trading Howie Kendrick, but they’re already paying a lot of money for big contracts given out to Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and C.J. Wilson. They have the makings of a superb bullpen and a rotation topped by Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, and Jered Weaver is a pretty good rotation to go with. It wouldn’t make sense to blow up your budget on something you aren’t desperate for.
But what about the Yankees? The Yankees have a lot of money and Max Scherzer wants a lot of money and everyone is saying the Yankees will sign Scherzer. This seems to be the prevailing opinion in the baseball world. But this is all baseless speculation. There has not been one solid report suggesting the Yankees would pursue any of the top three starting pitchers on the open market, let alone just Max. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, many reports have stated the Yankees won’t attempt to sign Scherzer:
Joel Sherman of the New York Post corroborates this sentiment, writing that if the team were to sign Chase Headleyto a contract in the range of $40 million that they would have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for starting pitching. That wouldn't be nearly enough money to sign Scherzer.
But maybe the Dodgers, the Red Sox, and the Giants would want Scherzer? These teams need starting pitching and all of them lost out on the Jon Lester sweepstakes and they have money to spend.
Not so fast.
The Red Sox lost out on Lester by $20 million. They wouldn’t spend big money on their own ace, low-balling him twice in the same year. All of a sudden, are the Red Sox going to turn up the money to sign Max Scherzer? I doubt it. That would make absolutely no sense and enrage a fanbase wondering why they paid for Scherzer but not Lester. Reports seem to suggest that the Red Sox are more interested in James Shields and Cole Hammels than they are with Scherzer.
The Giants appear to be in the same boat as the Red Sox, having immediate interest in bolstering their rotation with certain pitchers not named Max Scherzer. Indeed, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicles, the Giants do not have any plans to pursue Max Scherzer:
Was told #sfgiants have no plan to pursue Max Scherzer.— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) December 11, 2014
And then there are the Dodgers and their bottomless supply of money. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers have no spending limit, so it would make sense that they spend blindly on another big name free agent. It would make sense a year or two ago, but not now. In an effort to avoid the fates of the Phillies and Yankees by becoming old and weighed down by bad contracts, the Dodgers spent their millions on a front office that leans heavily towards analytics. This new sabermetric-oriented posse headed by Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi has flexed its muscles and made a flurry of moves during the Winter Meetings in San Diego. I think it’s safe to say that a team that unloaded Matt Kemp on the Padres, signed Brandon McCarthy for $48 million over four years and wants to become young is not going to go after Max Scherzer.
Thus far, we’ve eliminated seven teams on our list of eleven potential suitors. The four remaining teams are the Tigers, the Nationals, the Rangers, and Blue Jays.
You can immediately count out the Blue Jays. While they have the money and the need, they don’t have a very good relationship with Max’s agent, Scott Boras, who just as recently ripped the club for its policy of not offering more thanfive years to free agents. While the Rangers have the capacity to spend over $100 million on their roster, they are on the lower end of the spending spectrum. They don’t appear to have the money to add Scherzer either, according to beat writer Evan Grant.
The Nationals are another popular destination that people have speculated Scherzer would end up. The ballclub has the ability to spend a lot of money, have a good relationship with super agent Scott Boras, and has been rumored to be shopping Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmerman, who are pending free agents. So the logic follows that the Nationals trade a starter and use the cleared salary to sign Max. There are a lot of complications that derail this thought process.
First off, Mark Lerner, who owns the Nationals, has been on the record saying that the Nationals’s payroll has topped out. This comment was made at the start of the season, when Washington’s payroll sat at about $134 million. As of now, the team’s payroll sits at around $150 million factoring in MLB Trade Rumor's arbitration estimates, this after buying out Adam LaRoche’s option in spite of his stellar 2014 campaign. So it would not appear that the Nationals even have the money to sign Max Scherzer. But even if the Nationals had the money in the first place, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has stated that he intends to keep Zimmerman and Doug Fister when the team begins spring training. But even if the team was looking to trade one of its pitchers, the thought process leading to Scherzer’s signing doesn’t stand up to Occam’s Razor. The Nationals have the best rotation in baseball. Why not use all that money you’d spend on Scherzer to extend the pitchers you already have? It would save a lot of energy.
So if the Nationals aren’t likely to pursue Max Scherzer, then that just leaves the Detroit Tigers as the lone ballclub on our original list of teams who could go after him.
Jayson Stark has a source that told him the Tigers are all in on signing Scherzer. Peter Gammons has a source that says they aren’t. Dombrowski has flat out denied any movement on the Scherzer front but won’t close the door completely. It’s hard to tell what the Tigers are up to, but that’s the norm when your team is owned by Mike Illitch and ran by Dave Dombrowski. Anything can happen. But as of now, it appears the Tigers have been wheeling and dealing for starting pitchers, having acquired Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon, with the intention of filling out their rotation.
On one hand, this appears that the Tigers are shutting the door on Max Scherzer. On the other hand, it could all be one giant ploy by Dave Dombrowski to run the tables in any negotiation for their free agent pitcher with convincing walk away power. On a third hand, the Tigers are also reaching their spending limit. On a fourth hand, Mike Illitch owns the Tigers and is always willing to spare no expense in order to help his ballclub win. For now, it doesn’t appear the Tigers are interested, yet.
So that’s it. We compiled a list of 11 ballclubs that could petition for Scherzer’s services, and have come away with not a single shred of evidence that any of them are pursuing him, let alone interested. So what does this mean? For now, the market for Max Scherzer does not exist. Down the road? It could mean a couple of things. It could mean nothing. The free agent market is a free market, and free market climates are always changing. A club that didn’t think it could compete will change their mind and think it has a chance after all and think of Scherzer as the piece needed to push them over the top. A team that cried poor last week may discover a hidden treasure on a mysterious island and procure the money it needs to attempt to sign such an expensive asset next week. A team that lost out on their own trade and free agent targets would force them to go after Scherzer as part of plan B. Demand is always changing.
Then again, we have reviewed several teams who might not even try to sign Scherzer at all. If these teams won’t sign him, then who will? Teams like the Phillies and Reds are reloading. Other teams like the Brewers are topped out. Some teams like the Braves are wandering aimlessly but probably don’t have much money to spend in the first place. What small market team is going to try and sign a big free agent and commit financial suicide?
Scherzer is the best free agent on the market. That is not in question. Given that he is the scarcest of all scarce assets on this market, he will get a big contract regardless if one or ten teams are in on him. But I think there’s a distinct possibility that a perfect storm may greatly compromise Scherzer’s ability to cash in on his talents.