The Tigers aren't trading Max Scherzer.
You might think that sentence is akin to something like "Source: Angels 'holding on to' Mike Trout" or "McDonald's plans to stick with hamburgers." But there was an honest-to-goodness rumor about Scherzer. There was speculation that it was part of a dastardly plan to make him panic and pressure Scott Boras to make a below-market deal. Because that's usually what happens with Boras clients.
Here's what we know:
- Max Scherzer will be a free agent after the 2014 season if the Tigers don't re-sign him;
- Max Scherzer's value will never be higher, both as a trade chip and as a player looking for a contract extension, than it is today.
In a cold, academic way, it makes sense for the Tigers to explore a possible trade, at least.
In a real-world, never-going-to-happen kind of way, that's never going to happen in the real world.
But let's look at the Tigers' options.
It's so clinical. His value is never going to be higher. This is the smart play. This is playing the odds.
Except, think about the Tigers for a moment. One of their strengths is their lineup with three designated hitters, which is good for the run-scoring part of baseball. The bad news is that it's bad for the picking-up-the-baseball part of baseball, and the Tigers don't fare so well on the defensive side.
They can manage that, though, because they have a strikeout-heavy staff. With Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and (to a lesser extent) Doug Fister, the Tigers aren't especially reliant on batted balls turned into outs. Scherzer is a part of that. He's an excellent part of that.
More than that, though, think about the strengths of the Tigers right now. They have Miguel Cabrera, who is good now. They have Justin Verlander, who is good now. They have Anibal Sanchez, who is good now. They have Prince Fielder, who is not a complete debacle now. Every single thing about the Tigers is built to win now. Except for Nick Castellanos. Who will still probably still help them win now. SB Nation paid for those italics, so I might as well use them for that last one.
The reward for trading Scherzer would be, what, a live-armed prospect for 2015? Maybe a pitcher like Sonny Gray, who's ready to contribute, but not ready to be Max Scherzer? And when that pitcher is good -- Scherzer good -- Prince Fielder will be 31 or 32. But maybe it'll all work out!
Extension right now!
/spits coffee out
Are you high?
Max Scherzer was a good pitcher last year. He's Cy Young this year. Let him go back to being a good pitcher before committing to him for seven years and untold millions. If he's Cy Young again, it's not like his contract is going to go from absurd to unfathomable. It's going to go from absurd to really absurd.
I'm (mostly) not just talking out of my backside. I made the same argument in 2010 about another Cy Young winner:
If Lincecum and his agent successfully navigate the young pitcher gauntlet all the way to free agency, more power to them. They made it past the final round without any lifelines left, even when the last two questions were about opera and taxonomy. Then the Giants will have to decide if a 30-year-old pitcher is a good enough risk to lock up with a franchise contract. That’s so far into the future, it’s not even worth contemplating. So, so much can happen.
That was when Lincecum was subject to four more seasons of team control, so it's an imperfect comparison. But if you're looking for a better comparison, think about Adam Wainwright. He was 28 and a Cy Young-level starter.The Cardinals, or a mystery team, would have given him the moon if he'd been a free agent. Ten years, and hope he's good at 38.
The Cardinals waited, and Wainwright got hurt. Before he could be good-not-great in 2012, the Cardinals pounced on an extension. The result was a half-priced Wainwright from Nordstrom Rack. Just this one little blemish, everyone!
The only option. The Tigers have a win-now team. Scherzer is a win-now pitcher. It's a good match.
Do you know what next year is going to be like? Because, man, I have no idea. Last year, the Red Sox were a last-place joke. The Giants were world's champeens. If the Red Sox sold off Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, it would have been a mistake. If the Giants traded their meager farm pickings for R.A. Dickey, it would have been a mistake. Everything seems so clear in retrospect.
The Tigers get a year to figure out if they're still the win-nowiest of win-now teams, or if something's changed. When you're looking at a $120 million contract for a pitcher, that's necessary information. Pitchers are jerks, man. They have all sorts of moving parts that break down. Don't trust 'em. Don't trust 'em. Don't trust 'em.
Unless it's time to pay them or fail. That's the tricky part. But until it's a clear all-or-nothing decision, wait. Wait. Just wait. The downside is a slightly more absurd contract. The upside is saying, jeeeez, glad we didn't do that. Wait.
Wait. Don't trade, don't sign. Wait. At the end of 2014, the Tigers will know so much more.