December 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Kurt Mensching

Don't expect an extension for Tigers' Max Scherzer anytime soon

Max Scherzer's victory total has risen each year with the Tigers -- 12 in 2010, 15 in 2011, 16 in 2012 and 21 in 2013. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

All thatís left is signing Max Scherzer to an extension, right? Not so fast on that.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has managed to change the tenor of his 2014 team greatly while saving some money in the long run. Much of that money comes in sending Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Texas Rangers, freeing up about $76 million over the next seven seasons.

Naturally, many assume that is money that will be handed over to Scherzer, the reigning American League Cy Young leader and true ace of the Tigersí staff in 2013.

This seems like a false assumption. Thatís not to claim that Dombrowski, Scherzer and his agent, Scott Boras, wonít come to some sort of agreement. But we should at least stop for a moment to explore whether that makes sense for the team or even seems likely to happen.

The argument for keeping Scherzer around is pretty simple: His 2013 season was really darn good. With a 21-3 record, 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214 innings, Scherzer was the most consistent starter in a rotation of aces. He had a better ERA and more strikeouts than Justin Verlander. He pitched in 30 more innings than Anibal Sanchez, who actually had the teamís best ERA (2.57). In fact, Scherzer stayed on the mound deeper into games (6.7 innings per start) than all but two starting pitchers in the AL.

Pitchers who can put together the kind of season Scherzer can are increasingly rare and difficult to find. Itís unlikely Detroit would be able to replace him with an equal starter, so the team would be worse going forward.

So theyíve got to pay the man what he wants, right?

The problem with that idea is that the 29-year-old in all likelihood will never have a season this good again. Heíll still be valuable for all the skills that he brings to the game, but heís probably not the pitcher he appears to be today.

Think back to all the complaints about Scherzer before: He was inconsistent. He had problems keeping his mechanics in check. In his previous two seasons in Detroit, Scherzer averaged fewer than six innings on the mound.

This year, Scherzer put it all together, all year long. He also benefitted from having among the highest run support in the league while also allowing a career-low percentage of home runs per fly ball, 7.6 percent, compared to a career-average 10.4 percent.

None of this is to claim Scherzer will fall back to being the pitcher whose ERA was 4.43 two seasons ago or even 3.74 in 2012. But odds are heís not going to repeat the 2013 performance either.

Donít expect that to deter Boras from asking for a fortune, and given Borasí nature donít expect that request to be made until after the 2014 season anyway. When you think of Boras, you think of free agency, not timely and smart extensions.

Scherzerís not going to get Verlander money, he of the seven-year, $180 million deal. It might run pretty close though.

The Tigers probably canít afford to get that done, and even if they could they probably shouldnít.

If you set a conservative estimate of $20 to $22 million for Scherzer (realizing it might be as high as $25 million annually), add that to the $28 million per year Verlander will earn beginning in 2015, then include the $16 million annually going to Sanchez beginning 2015, youíll come up with about $66-70 million going to just three rotation members. And as weíve seen, even a loaded rotation is no guarantee of a World Series title.

Thereís a lot more money flowing into Major League Baseball now than there was before, but itís hard to believe a team could put that much money into its rotation and still continue to pay superstar slugger Miguel Cabrera and expensive second baseman Ian Kinsler.

We havenít even discussed replacing Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, or paying Austin Jackson.

The gist is, even a team owned by Mike Ilitch has to have a budget.

That was most likely the impetus behind trading Doug Fister. Whether Robbie Ray becomes the starting pitcher Dombrowski believes remains to be seen. But the move seems like one made with the acknowledgment Scherzer will be too expensive to keep in Detroit after next season and Ray will have to serve as an inexpensive stand-in a year from now.

Itís nice to think of a rotation anchored by Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez for years to come, but itís almost certainly not going to happen.

Put those thoughts of an extension away.

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

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