Max Scherzer had a career-best ERA of 2.90 in 2013. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Picture this moment 11 months from now, at either Comerica Park, or at Texas or Washington, D.C., or wherever championship-grade baseball teams might be playing in the postseason.
Max Scherzer is pitching – but not for the Tigers. They traded him last December in a deal that netted the Tigers a young starting pitcher who, unlike Scherzer, cannot become a free agent until 2018.
Scherzer is doing to the Tigers what he did for Detroit in past playoff games. He is dominating hitters. He is about to become the difference-maker in a short series. He is about to evict his old team from a decent chance at winning the World Series.
How would that move be received in Detroit? Or by an owner, Mike Ilitch, who had spent the past 20 years trying to win a championship that now will be bestowed upon another club?
Now you begin to see the improbability – feel free to call it silliness – of any Tigers trade that sends Scherzer to another team ahead of his date with free agency 12 months from now.
Because he will likely move to another town ahead of the 2015 season, there has been talk nationally and locally that the Tigers might deal a 29-year-old pitcher who next week is a good bet to win the American League’s Cy Young Award.
The rationale falls along these lines:
Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who does not generally discuss contract extensions for players he believes can do better on the open market. Hence, even if the Tigers wanted to talk about a heavy extension, Boras and his client almost assuredly have no interest.
They believe, probably correctly, that anything the Tigers would exorbitantly bid for four or five more years of Scherzer could be exceeded in free agency. And as long as Scherzer remains healthy, they are on firm ground, based upon past history and the spectacular dollars spent on prime-time baseball mercenaries.
Because no feasible contract extension is in sight, the Tigers – or so some national perspective suggests – would be wise to trade him now rather than wait. Of course, they will make him a 2015 qualifying offer at the end of next season, which will provide them with a lovely 2015 draft pick if he goes elsewhere.
But those who understand baseball’s draft risks believe the Tigers might prefer a surefire, more developed young star or stars in exchange for Scherzer.
It’s possible. Anything is possible in baseball, as we are reminded each and every year, and often with respect to the Tigers.
But why would a team offer the Tigers a wide-eyed price for one year of Scherzer?
We know why. It’s because the acquiring team would see in Scherzer the single blue chip that could bring to that town and team a World Series trophy in 2014.
The counterpoint is this: What are the Tigers rightfully saying today about 2014?
That they are among the early favorites to win next year’s championship – at least as long as some of their current stars remain in place. And that group of stars begins with the names Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer.
The Tigers will not compromise their best path to the playoffs, and to a championship, in 2014 because of fears they will lose Scherzer after next season. It would be one of the weakest moves imaginable, unless, of course, an acquiring team wants to make an even more outrageous transaction that would amount to an offer the Tigers could not in good conscience turn down.
A competing team will pay that incredibly loony price for a single season of Scherzer?
Not as long as sane general managers are at the helm of those clubs, which is the case today.
The Scherzer speculation was difficult to comprehend when it was first floated and it is even more unreasonable to behold as the Tigers get ready for 2014.
Max Scherzer has for the past two seasons been as close to a one-man demolition unit as one pitcher can be. He is an astonishingly powerful and gallant starter. He, alone, can wipe out a playoff opponent, with one dominating start, or with multiple appearances.
More fundamentally, he ranks as the brand of rotation pitcher who can knock out teams that otherwise can mess up a talented club’s plans for a fourth consecutive division title.
And so, the talk will not cease, probably, until Scherzer is secure in his Tigers unform for 2014. And that likelihood is about as certain as the nine-figure contract Scherzer is destined to sign one year from now.