April 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Lynn Henning

Max Scherzer and his agent make pretty safe bet in turning down Tigers

Max Scherzer turned down a $144 million offer from the Tigers before the season. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

In the category of Responses That Make Me Laugh, a rib-tickler arrived Monday when Max Scherzer told the Free Press he was upset with last week’s Sports Illustrated cover story.

Seems the SI cover blurb and story dwelt dramatically on the Tigers’ epic $144 million offer that Scherzer and agent Scott Boras decided in March they would forgo six months ahead of a massively talented right-handed pitcher’s entry into baseball’s free-agent auction.

Scherzer is a brilliant young man, the best pure businessperson wearing a sports uniform I’ve ever met. He is also grounded. And, if he were to view his particular case in a more detached manner, he would of course agree that expecting people, or a magazine, to downplay his and Boras’ gambit is silly, especially when no one loved that cover story more than the man Scherzer is paying a heavy commission to represent him.

Consider first what the Tigers did and did not do with respect to last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner.

They made him an offer that was stunningly ambitious for a mid-market team already paying $20 million and more per season for Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. The money was crazy, but even at that level it was not about to approach the majestic figure Boras and Scherzer properly believe they can draw in free agency, which could be something in the vicinity of $200 million.

Neither did the Tigers trade Scherzer. Lots of fans wonder why this failed to happen when he and Boras were destined — in fact, all but guaranteed — to take a whack at free agency this autumn.

The answers are two-fold:

The Tigers want to win in 2014 and Scherzer is indispensable to any such mission. The Tigers will also inherit a first-round draft pick in 2015 after they have made a one-year qualifying offer and after Scherzer has signed with another club, which I would expect, and bet, to be the Yankees.

Any team trading for Scherzer would need to offer players the Tigers would calculate as protecting them in 2014 and compensating them for a lost first-rounder in 2015. That kind of deal would be foolish for an opposing team to make when clearly Scherzer could only be expected to pitch this season with no assurances beyond.

There is, of course, risk, $144 million of risk, in Scherzer and Boras spurning Detroit. A bad injury can make this back-of-the-hand one of sports’ all-time money blunders.

Except that the best agent in baseball and maybe the smartest player in baseball have calculated percentages. And each man is quite comfortable with Scherzer staying intact in 2015, knowing only a permanently disabling injury probably keeps them from cashing in with a much bigger return this autumn.

The Yankees, because of past habits and because of pure need, will be favored to sign Scherzer once Boras begins tabulating his free-agent bids. The Dodgers probably will be involved. The Red Sox should be interested, and so, too, could be the Angels and Giants and the usual free-agent auction attendees.

But the Yankees’ tradition will be to all but write a blank check for the most devastating pitcher today throwing a baseball in the big leagues.

Interesting, that SI story last week. The article focused not only on the money — relax, Max — but on Scherzer’s craftsmanship. It explained how the curveball has become Scherzer’s new weapon.

It discussed his mesmerizing fastball and his lethal slider. And it completely ignored the pitch that has really made Scherzer into Scherzer: a changeup that has teamed with his fastball, ahead of the slider and an occasionally thrown curveball, as a Cy Young trophy-holder’s money pitch.

Boras knows this, of course. He probably uses GPS to track each of Scherzer’s throws ahead of the chart-and-graph artists who now offer breakdowns on every at-bat and what was thrown during a particular game.

Boras this autumn will anesthetize front-office chiefs and their accountants with heaps of such data that will eliminate payroll pain and heighten a team’s passion for signing Scherzer, at whatever cost.

The bet here is that, when the bidding is done and the accountants are given smelling salts, the winner will be the Yankees. Behind, of course, Scherzer and Boras.


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