Detroit Tigers Should Trade All-Star Starter Max Scherzer
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
In the 1983 comedy Trading Places, Dan Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III brilliantly simplifies the stock market for Eddie Murphy's Billy Ray Valentine by reducing it to four words: "Buy low, sell high."
Yes, Scherzer is the Tigers' current ace and the All-Star starting pitcher. Yes, he's racking up victories like Katy Perry racks up platinum records.
But I'm about to show you why his stock will never be higher but might well go lower, and why Dave Dombrowski should strongly consider Winthorpe's sage counsel.
In case you disagree, however, fear not: Mr. Dombrowski will likely not listen to me.
After all, the Tigers rarely sell high.
To wit: After the Tigers' World Series triumph in 1984, team brass had a decision to make. Prior to the start of that championship season, the team acquired Guillermo Hernandez—then still Willie—who was seven years into a solid but unspectacular career. He had one year left on his contract.
Hernandez's 1984 was a year whose magnificence defies description. He deservedly won the AL Cy Young and the MVP award.
If Hernandez were just slightly above average in the National League all those years, I reasoned, then maybe it just took American League hitters the season to figure him out. The likelihood that he had suddenly "found another gear" at that point in his baseball life stretched the bounds of credulity.
Further, I watched Hernandez pitch many times in 1984, and his ball…well, let's just say I've seen games of freeze tag that had more movement.
I told everyone who would listen to a pimply faced kid that the Tigers should trade him for a big bounty before he fell back to earth. Not surprisingly, no one listened. In fact, the Tigers offered Hernandez a hefty contract extension.
And not surprisingly to me, Hernandez did fall back to earth, with a decent year the following season, then a progressive slippage into mediocrity (not to mention a penchant for dumping buckets of water on Mitch Albom's noggin).
It happened again in 2006. When the Tigers needed a replacement for injured starter Mike Maroth, they turned to a pitcher named Zach Miner, who promptly—albeit briefly—turned into the second coming of Jim Palmer. He ran his record to 6-1 with a 2.57 ERA.
The previous season, Miner had pitched in 17 games for the Atlanta Braves organization, tallying a 4.23 ERA...in Triple-A. Moreover, I remember being in a Birmingham gym watching Miner notch his sixth win. And I remember his ball having all the movement of a chalk outline.
I proclaimed loudly enough for all the muscleheads around me to hear that the Tigers should trade Miner, but quick. Apparently, none of them were connected to the Tigers organization either: Miner stayed, played and immediately began to degrade.
Miner even hung around long enough to cost the Tigers the win in Game 163 of the 2009 campaign. In other words, if Miner were a stock, he'd be the dotcom bubble burst of 2000.
But speaking of 2009, the Tigers did sell high after that season—with Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson.
Jackson had torn up the league in 2009 and appeared to have come into his own. His stock was sky-high. And yet...he had fallen off considerably in the second half, as he had a history of doing. In fact, history proclaimed Jackson was just an OK pitcher, with essentially one great pitch. Everything else in his arsenal had—you guessed it—little to no movement.
Granderson was an All-Star, a solid hitter with a sparkling glove and a personality to match—not to mention a fixture in community involvement. His stock was through the roof. And yet...during the previous season, he decided to hit for power. As his homers mounted, his batting average plummeted.
Do you remember the outcries after that trade? Getting rid of Granderson and Jackson was tantamount to heresy and madness.
Except for Phil Coke, anyone want to undo that trade now?
You see the value of selling high?
Which brings us to our good friend Max Scherzer, the starter the Tigers received in that Jackson/Granderson trade. He's the toast of the baseball world of late, with a staggering 13-1 record. He started the All-Star Game and contributed to a three-hitter.
He's got a 3.19 ERA. Outside of this year, his ERA has been much closer to 4.00—or over it—than it has 3.00. Further, in the past, I've seen way too many second-half games where he was running on fumes and getting shelled to match.
Moreover, Scherzer is also second in the league in run support, which has a huge influence on a pitcher's record—no matter his ERA. If you don't believe the impact run support can have on a win total, consider who's first in that statistic: The St. Louis Cardinals' Lance Lynn, who is 11-4…with a 4.00 ERA.
You see what I mean?
Last but not least: yes, Scherzer strikes out a ton of batters; yes, his fastball is impressive; yes, he has improved his arsenal. And yes, in the area of ball movement, he has statistics on his side.
Well, call me crazy, but in this area, I don't trust stats. I trust the good-old-fashioned Clint-Eastwood-Trouble-With-The-Curve eyeball test. And it tells me Scherzer's ball generally has—you guessed it—all the moves of Screech hitting on Lisa on Saved By The Bell.
This is not a knock on Scherzer as a person; he seems a first-class guy, and I love the way he took his brief demotion to Toledo several years ago like a man and returned hurling assassin's bullets. And it's not a knock on his season. It's been a revelation.
But so was Willie Hernandez's 1984. And so was Zach Miner's spring and early summer of 2006.
When guys fall back to earth, it's not pretty. And it will be especially ugly when it happens to Scherzer with the undoubtedly mind-boggling price tag greedy superagent Scott Boras will affix to him.
And speaking of Mr. Boras, his grubby little hands hold perhaps the most compelling reason to deal Scherzer: Max's contract situation. Next year is Scherzer's last under his current agreement, and given Boras' reputation and Scherzer's season, the next deal will be worth in the neighborhood of $20 million per season. The Tigers, who already are paying two pitchers franchise money (Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez), not to mention the fat stacks for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, will at the very least hesitate before shelling out that kind of money on yet another long-term deal.
At worst, they will crunch the numbers and likely realize that offering Scherzer what he'll be asking for and turning a profit are mutually exclusive.
This is why trading Scherzer now is an imperative. Deal him before the season is over, and teams can be excited about the idea of giving Scherzer their own long-term contract. Deal him after this season, and he is simply a rental player. And without a guarantee that Scherzer will reup with his new club—a guarantee that's illegal to obtain because of baseball tampering rules—many teams will walk away from giving up their future for a lights-out pitcher who might well be lighting out of town (cue Green Day) when September ends.
Thus do I beg, beseech and implore Mr. Dombrowski: trade Scherzer. Promote Drew Smyly to the regular rotation, and in the trade, make sure to get both a closer and a late-inning specialist to bolster your bullpen, plus a premier Triple-A starter—the pitching equivalent of Austin Jackson when we got him.
(Speaking of Smyly, I am on record with my fomer boss: The first day Smyly pitched in a major-league game, I was blown away, and emailed him gushing, "Do you see the movement on this guy's ball? It dances like Ali in his prime." As much as I like Anibal Sanchez, our only real need last year was a second baseman; Smyly should have been in the rotation full-time.)
After the trade, your rotation would be Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Smyly. Your bullpen might be fatter by, say, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow (yes, I'm suggesting a trade within their division, so you and your conventional wisdom can bite me), or Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo. Your farm system would have a new marquee player.
Your fans will only groan for a day or two—Scherzer's never really won anybody's heart here. When the specialist and closer start preserving and saving games and winning becomes more frequent, all will be oh-so-quickly forgotten. And if the prospect makes the majors and starts mowing folks down, you'll be hailed as a clairvoyant.
Best of all, you won't be kicking yourself when Scherzer inevitably—mark my words—falls back to earth.
Dave, if you happen to be reading, channel Louis Winthorpe III one more time, as you did after 2009.
Buy low, sell high.
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