Welcome to the month of Scherzer-ary
Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday break, and especially the peace and quiet that goes with it on the baseball front. Now that the holidays are over, the volume on the Max Scherzer buzz is probably about to pick up, and with it, the buzz about the potential for a Tigers match.
It’s the rumor that won’t go away, and while many have downplayed the chances of a Scherzer return, no one to date has ruled it out. The longer it goes, and the longer Scherzer remains on the market, the greater the speculation.
After all the twists and turns since last March, it could end up with the team and the pitcher in the same place. And yet, deal or not, it could provide the most interesting January for the Tigers since 2012, when they went from waiting for bidding to begin on Yoenis Cespedes to losing Victor Martinez for the season to filling the void with Prince Fielder, all in the span of about a week. It could also be just as important to determining the team’s fortunes for 2015 and beyond.
Whether there was any question about Scherzer’s status as the top free agent on the market going into the offseason, there’s no question he’s the best free agent still left. Along with James Shields, he’s arguably the one difference-maker still on the market that can turn a team’s fortunes.
“There are a number of clubs that are playoff teams if they sign Max Scherzer,” Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said in a phone conversation.
The question is everything after that, from whether the Tigers can win again without him to whether they’ve set up their pitching staff for a Scherzer return, all the way down to whether Tigers owner Mike Ilitch will get a chance to match another team’s offer.
The first question has been debated heavily for most of the offseason. As Fangraphs pointed out Monday, the Tigers rotation produced 65.4 Wins Above Replacement over the last three years, easily topping Washington’s next-best total. Of that total, 16.5 came from Scherzer, a full win more than Justin Verlander, and more than any Major League pitcher other than Kershaw and King Felix.
The second is more subtle. Detroit has five starting pitchers with Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon acquired, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez under long-term contract, and David Price entering his final year of arbitration. In Simon, they also have a starter with an extensive history as a reliever. He became a full-season starter for the first time last year.
As for the last part, Boras reiterated that there will be no right of first refusal. He didn’t use the church bingo analogy this time, but he went with a more logical answer.
“You enter into negotiations with the goal of completing a contract,” Boras said.
That said, if the Tigers are involved, it’s not a stretch to expect Ilitch would get a chance to counter. Boras didn’t deny that logic. Remember, this is how the Sanchez negotiations (different agent, but same owner) played out two years ago, with the Cubs reportedly closing in on a deal with Sanchez until Ilitch and the Tigers topped it.
The question, of course, is how involved the Tigers are going to be. That saga will probably go on until Scherzer signs or until somebody actually closes the door. To this point, nobody has said no, even though there have been plenty of opportunities, and nobody has given a definitive yes.
As of mid-December, Dave Dombrowski said there were no active negotiations going on, and Al Avila said they hadn’t been in touch with Scherzer’s representation. Other general managers around baseball have indicated nothing going on with Scherzer, creating a vacuum.
Most of the buzz with teams surrounding Scherzer, however, have been at the ownership level, from supposed talks in California around the winter meetings to a rumored run-in at a basketball game around the holidays. While Boras isn’t naming teams, he’s giving every impression a move of this magnitude has to have momentum from up top to work.
“This is an ownership decision,” Boras said.
That was not a specific reference to Ilitch, or any other owner in that regard, Boras said. Rather, it was a reference to the size of the contract and commitment necessary to make a deal work.
Nevertheless, the history between Boras and Ilitch is well known. The last two major free-agent deals Boras negotiated with the Tigers — Fielder two years ago, and Johnny Damon in 2010 — were on the ownership level. They were also both late in the offseason.
There’s no timetable for a decision from Scherzer, and every indication that this could linger well into January, regardless of the number of teams interested.