11/15/2013 4:48 P.M. ET
Dealing Scherzer opposite of Tigers' win-now mentality
Cost savings, potential prospects not enough to forgo title pursuit
By Anthony Casrovince / MLB.com
Maybe the Tigers are open to trading Max Scherzer this winter, as has been widely reported.
Maybe the offers for Scherzer are or will be attractive.
Maybe marketing a guy who is 29, just won the American League Cy Young Award handily, is a Scott Boras client and is eligible for free agency in fewer than 12 months makes all the sense in the world.
But I'm just not buying the notion that any of this talk will lead to actual action.
Not if we're to put any stock whatsoever into, well, pretty much every recent transaction made by the Tigers.
"Everything they've done the last several years," one evaluator said, "has been with a World Series in mind."
Yep. The only possible exception is the hiring of a rookie manager in Brad Ausmus to replace the legendary Jim Leyland. But that says more about the state of the managerial hiring process and the relationship between manager and GM in the game today than it does about the Tigers' intentions.
They are still very much in win-now mode, all the way, and their aging core combines with their aging owner (Mike Ilitch turns 85 next summer, and his monetized yearn for a World Series ring is as well documented as it is well respected) to place undoubted urgency on the here and now.
So moving the mighty Max, while attractive both from the money it would save and the youth it could inject into the organization, makes too little sense for the Tigers to be taken too seriously.
This is not nearly the same situation the Rays face with David Price (who, by the way, is a more valuable trading chip anyway, given that he's left-handed, has two years of contractual control attached to him and is arguably more likely to work out a long-term extension prior to his free-agent eligibility). The Tigers, simply put, have dug themselves too deep into the win-at-all-costs model to start digging out now. They're in it to win it or go broke trying.
Still, the rumors will rage, because team president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski would be foolish not to at least listen to what other clubs have to say. And Scherzer, by the way, will be listening closely to every rumor and rumbling. Refreshingly, he's one of the few players who openly admit they enjoy analyzing the business side of ball, tuning in rather than tuning out, and he'll have plenty of tuning in to do in the coming weeks.
So, for fun, let's explore every incentive behind dealing Scherzer.
The primary argument for a trade is that the Tigers can't afford to keep him beyond 2014, and this argument might very well have some validity to it.
Scherzer was a bargain last season at $6.73 million. But in his final year of arbitration, he could very well double that number. Per MLBtraderumors.com, the largest raise for an arbitration-eligible starting pitcher with five years of service time was a $5.9 million bump that went to Carlos Zambrano. And that was way back in 2007, an eternity in this particular financial model. Given his Cy season, you could easily imagine Scherzer challenging or outright breaking that record.
And then, once he hits free agency, the sky's the limit. Not just because of who he is but because of what the open market has to offer. We have every reason to believe the Dodgers, who have been known to spare no expense themselves in recent years, will work out an extension with Clayton Kershaw. And if that's the case, Scherzer would easily be the top starter available in a free-agent market watered down by the recent trend of teams locking up their top talent at an early age.
The Tigers have certainly made the most of their market conditions, and their fans have responded by packing Comerica Park and topping the 3 million mark two straight seasons. But without a whopper of a television contract like the ones the Dodgers and several other clubs have signed in recent years, the Tigers' limits will be tested.
Scherzer has indicated he's willing to discuss an extension (not all Boras clients demonstrate that they're open to the idea), but the Tigers have to determine if they're willing to go down that road. They've already got more than $90 million committed to four guys -- Prince Fielder ($24 million), Miguel Cabrera ($22 million), Justin Verlander ($28 million) and Anibal Sanchez ($16.8 million) -- in 2015. And that's the last season of contractual control they have for Cabrera, so this could very well be a situation where the Tigers have to weigh re-signing Mr. Two-Time MVP vs. Scherzer.
Thing is, if we remove all emotion from this process, you could make a pretty compelling case that locking up the ace-type arm would be a wiser course of action than locking up the slugger who will be 32 years old when he reaches free agency. In terms of age and at-bats, Cabrera is just venturing into the territory where Albert Pujols began to show the first signs of decline. The Cardinals let Pujols walk and later locked up their 30-year-old ace, Adam Wainwright.
Though it's not an exact comparison, it's a decent one, and it's worked out well for the Cards so far.
So, yeah, I'd make every effort to extend Scherzer, if I could.
But regardless of whether they have serious expectations of extending him or not, the Tigers have to think twice about trading Scherzer. They have to consider the recent history of teams trading an ace for young players.
Cliff Lee was dealt three times by three different teams in 2009 and '10. A total of 11 players were acquired in those trades by the Indians, Phillies and Mariners. Those 11 players have combined for a 4.1 WAR at the Major League level.
The Indians also got surprisingly little long-term value out of the CC Sabathia deal, which netted them a solid player in Michael Brantley but a whiff on the key piece of the deal, Matt LaPorta. The Blue Jays dealt Roy Halladay and have gotten basically bupkis out of Kyle Drabek and (through a subsequent deal involving Michael Taylor ) Brett Wallace. The Twins went 0-for-4 on the Johan Santana trade.
The jury is still out on last winter's R.A. Dickey trade, but suffice it to say it's a special thing to watch a Cy Young Award winner blossom and a very difficult thing to get adequate value back for him. Even if you're as savvy a swapper as Dombrowski has proven himself to be.
Besides, the knowledge that Scherzer is a one-year rental who will be a difficult sign in the winter before 2015 will deflate his value, Cy Young or not. Rick Porcello, a moveable piece (given Drew Smyly's ability to assume his back-of-the-rotation spot) with two years of contractual control, is the much more realistic trading chip, from the Tigers' perspective.
Dombrowski believes his farm system is better than outsiders give it credit for, but there's no denying it leans more toward the thin side than do the Twins' and Royals' stables, especially. So the AL Central Division is going to continue to evolve. Beyond that, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez will also be free agents one year from now.
These windows don't last forever, and the Tigers have gone to extraordinary lengths to maximize theirs. The window remains wide open for 2014 in no small measure because of the robust rotation the Tigers have the ability to return.
Every move this organization has made in recent years has been about winning a World Series in the here and now. I don't expect that to change. And that's why I don't expect a Scherzer swap.