As any Detroit Tigers fan has known for the past few seasons, Max Scherzer is a very good pitcher who helps make the Tigers starting rotation one of the strongest in baseball. The national media has jumped on board the Scherzer train and many analysts were predicting that Mad Max would be one of the next pitching superstars. With the season Scherzer is having thus far, it seems as if those analysts may hit the nail on the head this year. The combination of strong pitching and an arbitration contract that runs only through the end of this season, he will be a free agent at the end of next season and is eligible once again for arbitration at the end of this season, makes for a dilemma for the Tigers at 2014 seasons end. The dilemma is do the Tigers hang on to Scherzer or do they lose one of their strongest pitchers to free agency or a trade due to other contract obligations? It is noted that we are still over a season and a half until this situation arises, but it is never too early to look and what is facing the Tigers.
While it is no secret that the Tigers would love to hang on to Scherzer and sign him to a long term contract, it just does not seem as if they will have the ability to with all of the other contracts. Before we get into that, let’s take a look at what is going to put the Tigers in this situation at the end of the 2014 season.
Max Scherzer will enter his next start as one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. Scherzer currently sits with an 8-0 record in twelve starts this season which is second in the American League in win totals trailing only Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox. Scherzer’s 100 strikeouts is good for third in the American League and is tops in a very strong Tigers rotation. Max has also been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Tigers this season. Scherzer has gone less than seven innings only once in his past eight starts and has gone at least eight innings in five starts this season. He has also been able to lower his ERA from a 4.02 in April to the current ERA of 3.24 thanks to a 3.00 ERA in May and a 1.24 ERA through one start so far here in June. Scherzer is well on his way to winning twenty games for the first time in his career and through point there is no doubt that he will garner some Cy Young votes.
While Scherzer’s stats are no doubt impressive and warrant a big pay raise and long term deal in the futire, it may be impossible for the Tigers to offer it to him leading to one of their strongest starting pitchers to depart via trade after this season or free agency after next season. This is all because of the Tigers current contract situation and the need to sign a couple other key players within the next two years.
At this point, the Tigers currently have three $20 million players on their payroll in Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera. Added onto that is the fact that the Tigers just signed starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez to a five year contract worth $88 million in the past offseason and you have around $85 million being spent on four players alone. The Tigers will also need to sign Cabrera to a contract extension, and they are reportedly close to doing so, which could total in the $150-200 million range with his contract being up at the end of 2016. Doug Fister will also be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and the Tigers may feel that Fister will be the cheaper option while still giving them a strong starting pitcher. Contracts may be the most limiting factor when it comes to the decision on what to do with Max Scherzer.
It would be hard to imagine that Scherzer would receive less than $15 million per season on the open market, especially with Scott Boras as his agent. Boras and the Tigers have a long history when it comes to signing players, and Boras may feel that he could sell Scherzer to the Tigers for far more than $15 million per season and if not, could easily get just as much, if not more, on the open market. If that is the case, the Tigers may simply not be able to afford to keep Max Scherzer past next season.
If the Tigers feel that they cannot keep Scherzer in the Olde English D long term, it may be in their best interest to trade him at the end of this season for a package of young players and to sign Doug Fister to the long term contract. A lot of what happens in the Scherzer saga is dependent on how the Tigers fare this season. If the Tigers are to go on and win the World Series, would it make it easier for them to trade Scherzer to get some more youth in the system? If the Tigers fail to win the World Series, would the Tigers feel more inclined to hold onto Scherzer as they continue to chase that elusive World Series Championship? What do you think Nation, what do you think the Tigers will end up doing with one of their best starting pitchers?