The most recent comments by Dave Dombrowski indicate that the Tigers are not pursuing Max Scherzer. Reports are that Scherzer and his agent Scott Boras are seeking a contract in the range of $200 million. Despite all that, there are valid reasons that the Tigers may still sign their former Cy Young winner before the 2015 season begins. Here are five of them:
1. The loss is too great
The Tigers have won four consecutive division titles with a team built around their starting rotation. While Detroit has lost Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly from their opening day rotation in 2014, other teams in their division have not been idle.
The Chicago White Sox have added Jeff Samardzija, giving them three of the top 15 pitchers in the game, according to WAR. For good measure, they’ve added former Yankees’ closer, David Robertson, outfielder Melky Cabrera, slugger Adam LaRoche, and pitcher Zach Duke. The Cleveland Indians feature the Cy Young champion in Corey Kluber, and return the league’s second best rotation, after Detroit. Without Scherzer, Detroit's biggest advantage is all but gone.
2. There is no assurance that Detroit can keep David Price
Price could replace Scherzer as the ACE of the rotation in 2015. But Drew Smyly, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello are also gone. In no version of reality do Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene replace Porcello and Smyly, let alone Fister. What was once a six deep rotation is now three premier starters and a couple of question marks. If the Tigers can't lock up Price beyond 2015, they'll have just a couple of draft picks to show for their once dominant rotation.
3. Signing Scherzer would allow a Price trade
We keep hearing that the Tigers don’t have any prospects to trade for the players they need, yet Dombrowski keeps finding a way to deal almost any prospect that appears on the radar to plug holes on the major league roster. At some point, the Tigers neeed to have at least a few productive players who earn near the league minimum salary and are under club control for five or six seasons. Trading David Price may not be ideal, but could be one way to stock up on young talent. If one of the players returning is a young starting pitcher such as Smyly, they might fill a need in the rotation and the outfield via a trade.
4. Alfredo Simon could be moved to the bullpen
While it is possible that Simon could put together his first full season as a good starting pitcher, but that’s something that hasn’t happened yet. In his first season as a starter after moving from the bullpen, Simon posted a 2.70 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP for the first half of the season and made the all star team. In the second half, he fell to 4.52 with a 1.44 WHIP. In his two seasons in the Reds bullpen, he was very effective. Even if the Tigers were to keep Price and Scherzer, they would not have to rely on both Greene and Simon coming through with seasons like they have never had previously.
5. Payroll considerations
When Boras talks about a $ 200 million contract, he is venturing into financial territory where only one man has gone before. Clayton Kersaw, two time Cy Young winner for the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed a seven year, $ 215 million contract. The next highest is Justin Verlander’s seven years and $ 180 million. The five year extension averages out to $ 28 million per year. Scherzer has to believe that he is at least worth as much as his team mate in today’s market. Depending on the number of seasons, the asking price may not be so outrageous.
The Tigers could actually give Scherzer something in the $ 180 to $ 200 million range, as long as the money is spread out over eight years or more, so that the average annual value is reasonable. In fact, make it ten years. Chances are, the contract is going to become an albatross in the latter years, regardless. If Scherzer feels the deal will cover the rest of his career, he might go for it. Chances of a pitcher being worth $ 20 million at age 40 are not good. Eight years is pushing it, but if the club can get a front line pitcher, who might go for $ 28 to 30 million per season, at a discount for as long as he is effective, just consider the last couple of seasons to be deferred, and a tax saving cost.
Detroit will have David Price, another starting pitcher who would be in line to receive front line dollars if he were a free agent, at a cost of $ 18.9 million based on arbitration projections. That is part of the reason why he’d be valuable in a trade, as well as valuable to Detroit. Being able to field a pair of ACES like Scherzer and Price for the bargain rate of $ 40 million would actually be quite cost effective. Terms that include a no trade clause or an opt out clause after a number of seasons might help to get a deal done.
Finally, Scherzer might just be the one player that Tigers’ owner, Mike Ilitch, is willing to write the big check to sign. He is certainly a difference maker- the biggest impact player available. We have seen Boras and Ilitch hook up previously to make a big splash, and it could happen again. If Prince Fielder gets nine years, then why not Scherzer?
Recent history suggests that Mr Boras will be holding out until he gets pretty close to the amount of money that he is demanding for this year’s top free agent player. Scherzer could sign at any time prior to that if a team is willing to meet his terms, or close to them. Otherwise, we can probably expect to be well into January before Scherzer knows what uniform he will be wearing in 2015.