Much speculation has already begun regarding the Detroit Tigers and what they might do with Max Scherzer this offseason. National and local media types are forecasting the possibility that he will be traded prior to the season, the last year before he becomes the hottest free agent on the market.
In this, the final segment of my 4-part series on ‘Building the 2014 Detroit Tigers’, I will focus on the starting rotation. Part 1 focused on the infield, part 2 on the outfield, and part 3 on the bullpen. Check them out and let me know your thoughts.
Best in Show
The Tigers’ starting five from 2013 was truly a thing of beauty. The only one of Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello to miss a start due to injury all year long was Sanchez. He missed five.
Thanks to their rare durability as a unit, the Tigers were able to pile up the stats as they led the American League in ERA at 3.44. Their 1,023 innings pitched was the most in baseball as were the ridiculous 981 strikeouts they posted. Their 1.21 WHIP tied Oakland for the best in the AL.
The credentials are obvious as star power literally engulfs the rotation. And even better, if the Tigers so choose, they’ll all be back next year. The tricky part comes from a contractual perspective. Here’s the breakdown:
The Money Factor
Justin Verlander – signed through 2019 with an option for 2020. Next year he makes $20M before his annual salary jumps to $28M/year for the duration of his contract.
Anibal Sanchez – signed through 2017 with an option year in ’18. He made $8.8M in ’13 but jumps to $15.8M in ’14 and $16.8M/year thereafter.
Max Scherzer – he is entering the final year of his arbitration run. He earned $6.7M in ’13 but will presumably make around $12-13M in 2014 and then become one of the most sought after free agents after the season.
Doug Fister – he has two more years of arbitration before becoming a free agent after 2015. He hauled in $4M in ’13 and will probably get a raise to around $6-7M in ’14.
Rick Porcello – Like Fister, he also has two years of arbitration remaining and isn’t set to hit free agency until prior to the 2016 campaign. He made $5.1M in ’13 and will get around $7M in ’14.
The Tigers are therefore scheduled to shell out around $70M in 2014 for these five pitchers, a number that will only increase if they all stick around.
One More Try?
The age old adage is that pitching wins championships. Oddly enough, Boston and St. Louis had two of the best offenses in baseball in 2013. They made it pretty far. Their pitching wasn’t too shabby either. Without a doubt, to win the whole shebang, a team must be well-rounded. But it doesn’t hurt to have the very best 5-man pitching unit in the bigs.
And that’s why Max Scherzer isn’t going anywhere. Much will change in the dugout prior to the start of the 2014 season for the Tigers, but one thing remains constant – the singular goal of this franchise is to win a championship. If the Tigers dump Max, they’re not trying hard enough.
On mlb.com today, Ken Rosenthal asked Max about the trade rumors (that Rosenthal himself has largely ignited). Max said, “It doesn’t bother me. I understand the business of the game and the realities of payroll.” But most important was this comment: “I want to be a Tiger.”
Well, good then. He wants to be here. The Tigers need him here. It’s settled then.
The obvious funnel to the Max trade talks is that Drew Smyly could step into his vacated slot in the rotation, giving Brad Ausmus a lefty to throw out there every five days.
Let me ask you this: How big of a drop-off would there be in going from Scherzer to Smyly? The word ‘monumental’ comes to mind. How about this one: From Fister to Smyly? Much less dramatic, no?
It seems that the only names ever popping up in trade talks in terms of Tigers starters are Max (now) and Porcello (for a few years running). If Dombrowski must make a trade to upgrade left field, which is being rumored, then package Fister up with Nick Castellanos and whoever is deemed the next batch of prospects to go.
Now if you’ve read the other three parts in this series, you know that I want Castellanos and Andy Dirks in a 70/30 platoon in left next year. Stay cheaper there and spend bigger in the bullpen. Keep the starting rotation intact. Let Smyly continue to dominate out of the pen. And voila! You have your 2014 World Series champions.
But if Dombrowski feels the burning need to add a star in left field, Fister’s two remaining years of club control, much lower salary than Max, and the fact that he’d be a strong #2 on a lot of pitching staffs out there, gives him a ton of value. A package of Fister and Castellanos would have any decent GM’s ear glued to the phone.
And if the Tigers do keep Max and do in fact win that elusive crown next fall, it would become much easier to watch Scherzer leave via free agency and get draft pick compensation in return. Or, the Tigers can use the money that will come off the books after next year when Torii Hunter ($14M) and Victor Martinez’s ($12M) contracts expire to re-up Scherzer, ensuring one of the best rotations in the game for years on end.
Trade Scherzer and the mission becomes compromised. Move Fister and Castellanos while upgrading left field will create some long-term dilemmas, but strengthen the team in the short-term.
They should all be back, but one thing must be true – Max stays.
For part 1 of this series, focusing on the infield, click here.
For part 2 of this series, focusing on the outfield, click here.
For part 3 of this series, focusing on the bullpen, click here.
[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]