The Tigers could shop Scherzer a year before he's eligible for free agency.
Max Scherzer picked a good time to have a career season, winning 21 of 24 regular-season decisions while posting a 2.90 ERA, a league-leading 0.970 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), 2.4 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9.
The 29-year-old could also win the AL Cy Young award, which will help his agent negotiate his contract this offseason. He's making $6.73 million this season and will get a nice raise in his last year of arbitration eligibility.
While Scherzer will benefit financially from his breakout performance, it's the Tigers who are in the driver's seat with a chance to cash in a valuable chip this winter.
Danny Knobler of CBS Sports is reporting that there is a "very real chance" that Scherzer will be shopped this offseason, a year before he's eligible to become a free agent. As Knobler points out, Scherzer's agent Scott Boras prefers his clients reach free agency while only a year away as opposed to signing a long-term deal.
While the price tag won't be as high as Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, who has two years remaining of team control, the Tigers would not only net a strong return but could re-invest the savings in free agency.
Here are four teams that could potentially put together a trade package for Scherzer.
The O's have averaged 93 and 85 wins, respectively, over the past two seasons, and their rotation has been a big part of the turnaround in Baltimore. After what had been 14 consecutive losing seasons, the fanbase should feel great about the team's current success.
But they've gotten as far as they have with a group of solid starters, none of whom would be mistaken for a staff ace. To get to the next level, the O's will need to find that clear No. 1 starter to lead the way.
While they have two potential aces, neither Kevin Gausman nor Dylan Bundy—who is recovering from Tommy John surgery—will be that in 2014. Scherzer could be, if the O's put together a good enough package to acquire him.
Here's what it would probably take for the Orioles to rent Scherzer for one year.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B: The soon-to-be 22-year-old, who is one of the top second base prospects in the game, would compete for the starting job in 2014. Schoop (pictured) missed most of 2013 with a back injury and posted a sub-par .607 OPS in 70 Triple-A games before a September call-up (4-for-14, HR). He's not in Manny Machado's class, but his ceiling is still high.
Zach Britton, SP: Out of options, the lefty Britton isn't likely to get his next chance in Baltimore. He's not quite a throw-in, considering he's only 25 and was one of the team's top prospects not too long ago. But the O's would gladly send him off in this deal and let the Tigers decide if he's worth a roster spot.
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP: Gausman and Bundy are likely off the table in a deal for a one-year rental, but the Tigers would likely require Rodriguez, their third-best pitching prospect. The 20-year-old lefty had a 3.41 ERA with 3.0 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9 in 25 starts between Double-A and High-A in 2013.
The Dodgers already have a strong front three in their rotation—Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu—but the last two spots are question marks heading into the offseason. It's uncertain whether Chad Billingsley, who had Tommy John surgery in April, can help at all in 2014, while Josh Beckett's recovery from surgery to relieve a nerve impingement in his shoulder also makes him iffy.
It's likely that they'll look to add at least one starter, and they'll set their sights very high, especially if they are unable to capture the World Series title this season.
A trade for Andre Ethier, which would require the Dodgers to take on at least some of his remaining contract—he's guaranteed $71.5 million through 2017—could work. Considering Andy Dirks' poor season, the Tigers like prospect Nick Castellanos, who is expected to take over the starting left field job sometime in the near future.
Detroit would also likely prefer to avoid taking on another huge contract when it can fill a potential void from within or through free agency.
Here's what it would probably take for the Dodgers to rent Scherzer for one year.
Joc Pederson, OF: He may not be ready to take over the starting job in left field right away, but the 21-year-old Pederson (pictured) could be the heir apparent to the right field job, which Torii Hunter will occupy through 2014. Pederson had an .878 OPS with 22 homers and 31 stolen bases with Double-A Chattanooga this season.
Stephen Fife, SP: Even if he's unable to win a rotation spot, Fife proved to be a capable fill-in starter this season (3.04 ERA in 10 starts) and would give the team a solid sixth starter option down in Triple-A. The 27-year-old is not an integral piece to this trade package.
Chris Withrow, RP: In his first full season as a reliever, the 24-year-old Withrow (2.60 ERA, 34.2 IP, 20 H, 13 BB, 43 K) showed that he's capable of being a late-inning pitcher out of the bullpen with closer potential. With Joaquin Benoit eligible for free agency and Drew Smyly a rotation candidate if Scherzer is traded, the Tigers will be seeking bullpen help.
Forget that the Yankees could be looking to fill several holes in their lineup this winter. Their biggest problem, by far, is their rotation.
The current projection includes CC Sabathia, who struggled terribly in 2013, and Ivan Nova, who had a strong season but won't ever be mistaken for more than a No. 3 or 4 starter. Andy Pettitte has retired. Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent. Since returning from shoulder surgery, Michael Pineda doesn't look like the same guy who made the All-Star team as a rookie in 2011.
Starting pitching will be general manager Brian Cashman's top priority. Finding a clear No. 1 who doesn't require a long-term deal would be ideal. Scherzer could top the list of candidates.
Here's what it would probably take for the Yankees to rent Scherzer for one year.
Gary Sanchez, C: Trading away a top prospect for a one-year rental can be risky. But the 20-year-old Sanchez (pictured), who had a .736 OPS and 15 homers between Double-A and High-A this season, isn't going to help the Yankees in 2014. If they're going to avoid a disastrous season, they're probably going to have to take some risks, like including Sanchez as the centerpiece for their 2014 Opening Day starter.
Slade Heathcott, OF: His stock is down after a so-so debut in Double-A (.738 OPS, 8 HR, 15 SB) but the 23-year-old Heathcott still looks like a future major leaguer who could help in the near future.
Jose Campos, RP: The other pitcher to come over from the Seattle Mariners in the Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, the 21-year-old Campos pitched well (3.41 ERA, 87 IP, 82 H, 16 BB, 77 K in Low-A) after missing most of 2012 with an elbow injury.
There's no doubt that the Pirates are a team on the rise and are in good shape with a strong core of young talent. But with A.J. Burnett contemplating retirement, the Bucs could ensure that the top of their rotation remains a force by acquiring Scherzer, who would team with Francisco Liriano to give the team one of the best 1-2 punches in the game.
While the Pirates could look into what it would take to acquire an impact bat like Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion early in the offseason, they could move on quickly if the price is too high and pursue Scherzer for a lesser trade package.
Here's what it would take for the Pirates to rent Scherzer for one year.
Tyler Glasnow, SP: The emergence of Glasnow in 2013 gives the Bucs a third minor leaguer, in addition to Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco, who could be amongst the top 50 prospects in the game. The 20-year-old, who had a 2.18 ERA with 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings for Low-A West Virginia, would likely slot in as the team's best prospect if he were acquired.
Jason Grilli, RP: Adding Grilli (pictured) to be the team's closer in 2014 would likely be much cheaper than re-signing free agent Joaquin Benoit or another free-agent closer. The 36-year-old, who will make $4.25 million in the final year of his two-year contract, had a 2.70 ERA with 33 saves, a 2.3 BB/9 and 13.3 K/9.
The Bucs would then turn over the closer's job to Mark Melancon, who led a deep bullpen while Grilli was out with a forearm injury late in the season.
With at least two holes to fill in their rotation, the Giants are reportedly trying to re-sign Tim Lincecum to fill one of them. Since that would likely require a long-term commitment, they could shy away from the top of the free-agent class to fill another spot.
A one-year commitment for Scherzer, even if it costs them a top prospect, could be more to their liking as they look to bounce back from an 86-loss season in 2013.
Here's what it would probably take for the Giants to rent Scherzer for one year.
Kyle Crick, SP: General manager Brian Sabean could be a bit gun shy when it comes to trading away his top pitching prospect. But unlike the two-month rental for Carlos Beltran back in 2011 that cost them Zack Wheeler, the Giants are in a much better position this time around with several good pitching prospects in the lower minors to help make up for the loss of Crick (pictured), a 20-year-old right-hander who had a 1.57 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 68.2 High-A innings.
At the time of the Beltran deal, Wheeler was practically the only player of value in the Giants' system. In this proposed deal, they'd get one year of Scherzer and wouldn't be emptying out their entire pool of minor league talent.
Heath Hembree, RP: Pegged as the Giants' "closer of the future" shortly after he was drafted in 2010, Hembree has had a slow ascent to the majors. But he turned some heads once he got there. In 7.2 scoreless innings during a September call-up, the 24-year-old allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out 12.
If the Tigers don't re-sign Joaquin Benoit and opt to replace him from within, Hembree would likely be the top competitor for Bruce Rondon to be the team's next closer.