Doug Fister won a career-high 14 games for the Tigers in 2013. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
The time for trading Max Scherzer was a year ago.
It probably sounds a bit silly to say that now, during the week Scherzer will more than likely be presented with the Cy Young Award. How could it possibly have made more sense to trade Scherzer before such a great season even began?
The answer there is easy: value. The longer a team gets to use the player, and the less the team has to pay that player, the higher the value is to a team trading for him. So the more they’d better pay up.
With two years remaining before being eligible for free agency, Scherzer was worth more last winter than he would be this winter, even though he is coming off the best year of his career.
So for those discussing why it might make sense for the Tigers to trade a starting pitcher, maybe we’re all discussing the wrong one. Maybe we should be talking about trading Doug Fister or Rick Porcello? Hey, what about a deal involving Drew Smyly?
Both Fister and Porcello have two years remaining before they can declare free agency. You want to talk about a deal -- Smyly won’t be a free agent until after 2018.
By process of elimination -- Porcello’s return probably wouldn’t be great, and the Tigers should be hoping to acquire a player like Smyly rather than trading him -- that leaves us with Fister.
If you’re going to create a trade narrative around the Tigers, that’s the way to do it.
The similarities between Scherzer a season ago and Fister now are remarkable.
Salary: Scherzer was paid $6.7 million in 2013; the 2014 salary for the arbitration-eligible Fister, projected by MLB Trade Rumors, will be $6.9 million.
Career numbers: Scherzer had a 3.88 ERA entering this year. Fister has a 3.53 career ERA. Using a statistic that neutralizes for pitching environment, Scherzer’s ERA+ was 110 entering 2013; Fister’s is 116. (For reference, 100 is average.)
Most recent season: Scherzer had a 3.74 ERA in 2012 with a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) figure of 3.23. (FIP is a stat based on what a pitcher is thought to control: strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.) Fister in 2013 had an ERA of 3.67 and FIP of 3.26.
In other words, trading for Fister would give a team a veteran, playoff-tested starting pitcher who could help make a difference and is likely only getting better. All that and the team would get to keep him for two years while paying him in 2014 half of what Scherzer will earn.
If they did make a trade, the Tigers would almost certainly move Smyly to the rotation, all but assuring the team wouldn’t miss a beat as it continues to pursue a World Series title.
However, it would open up two issues that would need to be addressed: that string of moves would create another hole in the bullpen and a possible loss of rotation depth if Scherzer walks after 2014 with no great prospect in the organization to promote. So the question is, do you try to win now or do you want to extend the playoff window even further?
The right move may actually help the Tigers do both. It’s up to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the front office to find it -- and they just might. Hey, they brought both Scherzer and Fister to Detroit by making trades, right?
If the Tigers hope to keep winning for years into the future without missing a beat now, trading Scherzer would be a mistake. Trading Fister might just be the best move they could make.