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Mailbag: Max Scherzer is still a free agent

When will Max Scherzer sign? What happens to Bryan Holaday this season? Do we need more relievers? These questions and more in this week's mailbag!

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The doldrums of the offseason have reached their lowest point. Mid-January is where trade rumors go to die, joining the long-since frozen flora outside your window. This year is no different. However, Max Scherzer and James Shields are still lurking. They will sign with a team at some point and there will be life in the baseball world. Until then, we sit. We wait. We answer mailbag questions.

This is par for the course when Scott Boras clients test free agency. Boras may seem like a money-grubbing scumbag, but he's a money-grubbing scumbag that is really good at his job. He waits out general managers who don't think their club needs Studly McSuperstar and preys on owners with cash to burn and championships to win. Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers on January 26th, 2012. Magglio Ordonez signed on February 7th, 2005. Stephen Strasburg signed his record-setting rookie deal 77 seconds before the deadline in 2009. Alex Rodriguez waited until late January to sign his then-record $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers back in 2001. This is what Boras does.

I go back and forth on what the lack of recent news on Schezer means. Are teams getting smarter about their money and realizing that paying him for seven years is crazy? Judging by the contracts given out this offseason -- Jon Lester's, in particular -- this doesn't seem to be the case. If anything, owners are throwing out even more money with reckless abandon for future consequences. I mean, Ervin Santana got $55 million after not being able to find a job last offseason when he was a year younger. Max Scherzer is still going to get paid. It won't be $200 million, but it will be well above the infamous $144 million from last March.

Patrick wrote a great post earlier this week detailing some of the relief pitchers left on the free agent market. There are several names there, most of whom represent an intriguing option for 2015. A lot of them -- the injured guys, in particular -- fit in with the Tigers' bullpen philosophy this offseason. I would like to see them add one or two of these pitchers on minor league contracts with invites to spring training. The more guys in camp competing for jobs, the better.

The problem with some of these guys is that they are going to require major league contracts. Burke Badenhop had a great year for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. Someone is going to scoop him up, and there are only so many 40-man roster spots to go around. The Tigers have a couple guys on their 40 man roster that I wouldn't mind cutting lose for another bullpen arm, but I'm not the one scouting them. My decision would be largely uninformed. I have never seen Wynton Bernard play, and while his profile suggests he is unlikely to become a starting-caliber center fielder, I generally trust that the Tigers know what they are doing when they choose to keep him instead of signing Casey Janssen.

If I had to guess at one of those names, I'd say Matt Albers. He has plenty of experience and was pitching pretty well before getting hurt in 2014. He had a 2.63 ERA (but a 4.12 FIP) in 133 1/3 innings from 2012 to 2014 and only allowed 7.6 hits per nine innings. As I said about Tom Gorzelanny earlier this offseason, the Tigers don't shy away from guys with shoulder problems. With a limited pool of teams that will be in pursuit, the Tigers could swoop in and pick him up if the price is right.

I can't say that I thought of Cliff Lee once while watching Lobstein pitch last season, but this question is intriguing. Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the thought of developing one of those -- even in delayed fashion, as Lee was -- is exciting. Prospect guys will grit their teeth as I write this, but let's try to compare the two and see what we come up with.

Both are tall left-handers. Both had decent pedigrees when drafted; Lee was a fourth rounder selected in 2000, while Lobstien was drafted in the second round in 2008. This is where things start to fall apart, though. Lee pitched for the University of Arkansas before he was drafted and moved quickly through the Expos' and Indians' farm systems. Lobstein was selected out of high school and didn't hit Double A until his fourth season in the Tampa Bay Rays' organization. Lobstein was younger than Lee when he reached Double A, but did not pitch as well. At almost every level, Lee outperformed Lobstein, though not by a huge margin.

Their relative prospect shine was much different, though. Lee was regarded as a top prospect, ranking 30th on Baseball America's 2003 list. Lobstein was a Rule 5 pick and ranked 30th on our organizational list last season. I don't know enough about Lee's early scouting reports or Lobstein's present stuff to compare them at age 25, but Lee finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting as a 26 year old. Then, a few years later, he somehow developed pinpoint command and won a Cy Young. He has been throwing darts ever since.

One thing I would like to see is if Lobstein -- and a lot of the other pitchers in our farm system, to be honest -- could learn to throw a cutter. It's an effective pitch, and one that Lee has made part of his arsenal for years. This isn't to say that Lobstein + cutter = Lee, but I think that the cutter would be a step in the right direction.

It's easy to cop out and say that this all hinges on Justin Verlander's productivity, but every team has a scenario like this. Cleveland could have the best rotation in the division if Carlos Carrasco's second half of 2014 wasn't a fluke. Chicago could have the best rotation if they find a fourth starter. Kansas City could have the best rotation if Danny Duffy continues to be the real deal.

I still think the Tigers have the best rotation, though. Their top three starters are better than what the Indians have to offer after Corey Kluber, and their depth is better than whoever the White Sox are running out after Jose Quintana. I really like Shane Greene and think he will do well, so my optimism largely stands on him being a stud of a fourth starter. If Justin Verlander turns back into Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez stays healthy, then this isn't even a contest. Those are a pair of relatively big ifs, though.

Everything we have heard this offseason (a) has already been passed along to you, dear readers, and (b) suggests that James McCann will be the backup catcher in 2015 with eyes on starting in 2016. The team likes how he calls games and works with pitchers, and the eye test suggests that he's a better defender than Holaday. If he can mash left-handed pitching like he did in Triple A last year, then Holaday might not see Detroit until September.

This is somewhat unfortunate -- Holaday seems like an endearing fellow, after all -- but makes for a better Tigers club in 2015. McCann has the higher upside of the two and his numbers in Triple A last year indicate that another season with the Mud Hens would not be very productive. He appears to be ready for the jump to the majors, and giving him the at-bats to determine if he can indeed be a starter in 2016 is more important than potentially stunting what little growth Bryan Holaday has left.


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