January 14, 2013 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching: Bless You Boys

Trade Max Scherzer instead of Rick Porcello? Here's why it makes sense for Tigers

In three years with the Tigers, Max Scherzer is 43-27 with a 3.89 ERA. (Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News)

Are we all so distracted by the possibility of trading Rick Porcello that we miss other options?

Maybe the time is right to move Max Scherzer instead.

The idea, of course, is counterintuitive.

With money seemingly no object, the Tigers just guaranteed Anibal Sanchez $80 million across five seasons. Why would they even consider trading Scherzer after that?

In fact, they probably wouldn't. He's a key reason many believe the Tigers to have the best rotation in baseball. With anything short of a World Series victory seen as a failure in 2013, the Tigers probably aren't going to spend a lot of time working on theory.

But if you believe the difference in ability between Scherzer and fellow right-hander Porcello isn't as great as some stats might indicate, there may be no better time than now to trade Scherzer.

Scherzer's about to see a nice bump in pay. At a projected salary of $7.5 million by MLBTradeRumors.com, he should still continue to be a relative bargain.

But with two years before free agency, he's quickly going from a club-controlled steal to a considerable expense.

Attempting to extend Scherzer's contract this offseason is one way to hedge the possibility of a pricey contract beyond 2014, but it also comes with the added risk of the 28-year-old right-hander losing his effectiveness or being injured.

Remember Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, et al? Of course you do. Extending pitchers' contracts has not always been a winner for the Tigers, so caution is wise here.

With Scott Boras as his agent, Scherzer probably wouldn't accept anything short of his future market value anyway.

So if he's probably not going to be a Tiger long; why not trade him while he still has surplus value for another team to find?

Taking advantage of what should be a relatively high trade value coming off a successful season, the Tigers might be able to bring in the infield help they desire or add a few prospects to a weak farm system.

What's the difference?

Should the Tigers not trade him, Porcello remains under club control for the next three seasons.

MLBTR projects his salary for the coming year to be about $4.7 million — that's about $3 million less than Scherzer likely will make.

By not shipping Porcello elsewhere, the Tigers will be able to keep more options open for the coming years.

Winning a World Series this year obviously is the goal, but why hamstring future clubs if they don't have to?

The debate here obviously swings on one key issue: how well you believe the pitchers will do this season.

The Fielding Independent Pitching stat, which corresponds better with future performance than ERA, offers some guidance here.

Porcello's FIP has steadily improved during his career, from 4.77 his rookie season to a better-than-average 3.91 in 2012. It seems safe to predict further improvement for the 24-year-old Porcello, to a figure around 3.75.

Scherzer's FIP has been all over the place since joining the Tigers: 3.71 in 2010 before jumping to 4.14 and then dropping to 3.27 in 2012.

At his best, when he strikes out batter after batter, Scherzer looks to be an incredibly good pitcher. Then he falls into periods of struggle where he is average at best.

Scherzer still should be projected to be better than Porcello, but predicting a 3.50 FIP seems a safer bet based on past inconstancy.

Is that quarter-run difference enough to justify Scherzer's price and spot in the rotation?

If it is, you keep him. (You should probably keep Porcello, too, for a little insurance.)

But maybe that difference isn't so great after all.

If you believe that, trade Scherzer now, when his value might be at an all-time high.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached atbybtigers@gmail.com.

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