After another postseason ended in pain and frustration, the Detroit Tigers will try to fix the problems that have prevented this team from getting over the final hurdle in October the last two years.
One of the biggest pieces of business will be what general manager Dave Dombrowski does with likely 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.
Scherzer was the starting pitcher in the two most devastating losses the Tigers had in the American League Championship Series against Boston. Game 2 featured David Ortiz's grand slam off Joaquin Benoit, while Game 6 gave Shane Victorino a chance to get in on the grand slam parade when Jose Veras hung an 0-2 curveball that all but ended the series.
His performance in the regular season was masterful:
There has already been speculation about Scherzer's future, as reported by CBS Sports' Danny Knobler. On October 10, Knobler wrote that the Tigers could deal the right-hander this winter and maximize a return before he heads into free agency next offseason.
And before you say that the Tigers should just re-sign Scherzer now to avoid any potential headaches, Knobler also points out that the pitcher is represented by Scott Boras, and his clients rarely sign long-term deals before heading into free agency.
There is also a financial component at play for the Tigers, who are getting older and have a lot of players with expensive contracts. Per Knobler:
With or without a new deal, Scherzer's 2014 salary figures to jump to somewhere around $20 million, a stiff price for a team that already has three players making more than $20 million a year (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander), and three others who will make between $12 million and $16 million next year (Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez).
So while it is easy to say that the Tigers should throw all the money they can at Scherzer, who won't turn 30 until July 27, there are a lot of things that this front office has to consider before contemplating an offer that would get him to listen.
On the other hand, there are a number of factors that suggest the Tigers will do anything and everything it takes to keep Scherzer in the fold for the long haul.
First, despite what Knobler's report says, ever since Dombrowski and Jim Leyland came together in 2006, the Tigers have never traded proven, valuable MLB assets. In fact, the franchise has all but bankrupted the farm system over the years to add players like Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Doug Fister and others to ensure it could compete for championships.
That strategy has paid off better than anyone could have expected, because virtually all of the major prospects they dealt failed to reach their full potential and the Tigers haven't had a season end before the ALCS since 2010.
Second, Scherzer is still under team control for another year before hitting the market. I can understand the desire to have long-term security with a player, but the Tigers aren't the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays are also facing a dilemma with their best pitcher, David Price. He is signed for two more years and there is zero chance they can afford to re-sign him, so it makes sense for them to explore every possible option.
They did it last year with James Shields. And Kansas City was willing to part with top prospect Wil Myers to consummate a deal. It looks to be a bargain for the Rays, who have a potential superstar under control for the next six years. The Royals only have one more year of Shields before he goes into free agency.
Moving back to Scherzer, the Tigers had a payroll almost 2.5 times that of the Rays in 2013 ($148 million to $61 million). They don't have to think about financial ramifications of things right now because their business model allows them to be fast and loose.
With both sides being examined, does a long-term extension for Scherzer make sense for the Tigers to keep their championship window open?
An easy answer would be to say yes, provided that the terms of the deal were within reason for Detroit. I mean, if it has to pay him what Justin Verlander got before the start of the season (seven years, $180 million), that's too rich a deal for a pitcher approaching his 30s.
What is the best move for the Tigers with Max Scherzer?
(For the record, I didn't like the Verlander extension at the time it was signed because he was still under contract for two years and had just turned 30. Big multi-year deals for pitchers at that age usually end in disaster. See: Roy Halladay.)
But I actually think that the Tigers should hold off on signing Scherzer to a long-term extension for two reasons.
The fact that he has another year of arbitration puts the Tigers in the driver seat. Scherzer is going to get a huge raise from the $6.7 million he made in 2013 either through arbitration or a negotiated deal before spring training, and deservedly so. Their best chance to win is with him in the rotation next year.
More important than that is that even if the Tigers don't get Scherzer to re-sign after the 2014 season, how much worse is that rotation really going to be?
They have the best and deepest starting staff in baseball right now with Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Fister. I understand that losing one of them puts a dent in the overall picture, but that rotation is more than capable of winning a championship with just Verlander, Sanchez and Fister.
Given the fact that the Tigers were the fifth-oldest team in the majors this season, they have gone all in to win immediately. They will still be the overwhelming favorite to win the AL Central in 2014 and have a great chance to make a deep run in the postseason.
There's no predicting what will happen after 2014, but we know this front office doesn't focus on the long-term future very long. The Tigers have locked up their best players (Cabrera and Verlander), done well to surround themselves with a solid roster that still needs some tweaking (especially in the bullpen) and are going to be one of the best teams in baseball next year.
Making a shortsighted move to sign Scherzer long term in hopes that it will keep this window open, when in fact, it might actually be more detrimental because of the huge money they already have committed to players, doesn't make sense.
Build the roster for 2014 and worry about everything else after that. Scherzer will still be a part of the plan next year either way.
All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
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