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Is David Price or Max Scherzer the Better Blockbuster Trade Target?

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Is David Price or Max Scherzer the Better Blockbuster Trade Target?
USA Today

David Price and Max Scherzer have quite a bit in common these days.

Both were first-round picks less than a year apart who debuted in the majors in 2008. Both are top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers on perennial playoff contenders. Both now have an American League Cy Young Award on their résumé.

And both, surprisingly, are available via trade, according to reports.

Of course, whether Price and/or Scherzer will be traded has become one of the hottest topics of this offseason. At this point, it seems more likely that the small-market Tampa Bay Rays will peddle Price at peak value in order to free up payroll and acquire younger, cheaper talent than it does that the deep-pocketed Detroit Tigers would swap Scherzer, who recently indicated via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that he would be open to signing a long-term extension to stay in Detroit.

Either stud starter would require a massive haul in return, but there are numerous factors and circumstances that need to be considered when evaluating the value of each. Which raises the question: Between Price and Scherzer, which one is the better target for teams looking to land an ace in a blockbuster this winter?

 

Targeting Price

It doesn't get much better than a 28-year-old fireballing left-hander who's thrived in the AL East and has plenty of postseason experience, does it?

Although Price had a poor start then missed more than a month in the middle of the 2013 season due to left triceps soreness—his only trip to the disabled list since breaking into the bigs—he came back with a vengeance to help the Rays make their playoff push.

Upon returning in early July, Price made 18 starts and went 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. His strikeout rate, it should be pointed out, was down from a career 8.1 K/9 to just under 7.0 per, and for the year, his velocity dipped a mile per hour or two, from 94-95 mph to 92-93 mph.

As such, that might give some pause for teams pursuing Price, except the 2012 Cy Young winner pitched so well over the second half anyway, that it might not matter much. 

Beyond the on-field performance, there are the important issues of money and team control. Price, who earned just north of $10 million last year, will see a bump in salary, likely somewhere in the $13 million range, per MLB Trade Rumors. As a player who qualified for Super Two status—meaning he gets four swings at arbitration eligibility, not the usual three—he'll be on his penultimate turn.

That will inevitably cost any team that obtains him several million more than he otherwise would have earned, had he not been a Super Two. Depending on how his 2014 campaign goes, he could be in line for $16-18 million in his final go-round next winter. In all, then, a rough estimate would be that Price will earn approximately $30 million over the next two seasons. To be sure, that is no small amount, but it's also well under market value for one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.

That, of course, is a big reason why Price is such a draw, as is the fact that he will be under team control through 2015. To a club with a window of contention beyond just 2014, that is a major plus to targeting Price.

Because of that, the downside for any team targeting Price is that the Rays are in position to ask for, well, a lot. Even though he won't be cheap in terms of salary, the second season of control gives Tampa a lot of extra leverage in negotiating a deal.

 

Targeting Scherzer

From an individual's perspective, the 2013 season really couldn't have gone any better for Scherzer, could it?

The 29-year-old hard-throwing right-hander had an all-around career year that was justly rewarded with the Cy Young after the season.

In surpassing the 200-inning mark for the first time, Scherzer, who hasn't been on the DL since early 2009, posted a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and a whopping 240 strikeouts—second-most in baseball. (And if you care about things like pitcher wins and losses, he did OK there, too, going 21-3.)

Scherzer was doing all of that at the bargain price of just under $7 million, too. Coming off such an incredible campaign, though, his 2014 salary is expected to more or less double, per MLB Trade Rumors, to nearly $14 million.

Because Scherzer is set for his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, he is also entering his last season of team control. While it's somewhat coincidental—and helpful for purposes of comparison—that Scherzer will cost about the same toward payroll as Price in 2014, the potential one-and-done factor is a huge difference-maker.

Sure, any team that acquires Scherzer could attempt to work out a multi-year extension to prevent him from leaving after a year. And if not—remember, his agent is Scott Boras, after all—the team would certainly extend him a qualifying offer after the season in order to recoup draft-pick compensation.

Thing is, both of those options also apply to Price, just a year later.

 

The Verdict

So which ace is the better target: Price or Scherzer?

It's most definitely Price, given that he appears to be more readily available—albeit at a higher cost in terms of trade return—and can impact multiple seasons for any contender that adds him to the front of its rotation.

The other big catch with Scherzer is that, while not impossible, it's hard to see how the Tigers could realistically and reasonably deal arguably their best pitcher at a time when they remain on the cusp on a title.

Because Scherzer is likely to stick around only for one year, any teams that would go for the right-hander obviously need to be contenders. And since the Tigers are on the same end of the competitive cycle (i.e., win now), they would be looking for big leaguers in return, not merely prospects who are a year or two away.

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Basic logic says that two teams in pursuit a World Series title don't usually match up on the trade front, because each would be giving up a key player who will be helping them next season.

That's not to say the Rays aren't championship contenders—they are—but given their financial straits and budgetary concerns, it's easier to see them finding a way to move Price for quality young talent (i.e., young major leaguers and/or prospects) that will earn many millions fewer than the left-hander will over 2014 and 2015.

In fact, the Rays did just that last winter by trading away James Shields, another of their longtime starters with two years of team control remaining at the time, in exchange for Wil Myers, who was big league ready and showed as much by winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

The bottom line is that it would seem Scherzer has too much value to the Tigers and their hopes in 2014, while simultaneously having too little value for any would-be suitors who would be contending next year and thus unwilling to give up much for the risk of a likely one-and-done acquisition. Even one as great as Scherzer.

In this case, the Price, if you will, is righter.

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