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KURT MENSCHING

Mensching: Scherzer or Price? No bad answer for Tigers

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

Who would you rather have in the Tigers' rotation, David Price or Max Scherzer? This is a question that a month ago would have been purely academic. Now, that might not be the case.

Cake or pie? Scherzer or Price? There is no wrong answer. You want them both.

That's almost certainly not an option for the Tigers, unless owner Mike Ilitch authorizes an increase in the Tigers' payroll to unimaginably high figures.

The assumption goes that Scherzer would garner a contract lasting seven years and costing upward of $180 million. The Tigers balked at going above $144 million earlier this year, so that path seems like a dead end. Price will still be around for 2015 — his final year of arbitration eligibility — allowing the Tigers figure out what to do about the future, well, in the future.

Some would even argue it's better to let both players leave rather than being tied to a lengthy, pricy contract. "Look at how well that's worked out with Justin Verlander," they'd tell you, full of sarcasm. That is one way of looking at it. Another is that it's a fool's task trying to replace Cy Young Award-winning pitchers without making a staff significantly worse.

The Tigers and their owner don't fear spending money and aren't ready to rebuild, so let's assume they don't want to watch both walk away with no more than a pair compensation draft picks as the return.

If that's the case, they should try to sign Price to an extension, and the sooner the better. If they can't get him to agree to one, the question of which starter to keep is an easy one to answer.

Scherzer wants to be in Detroit. He's an intelligent pitcher who has settled into his own mechanics and can be relied upon every time he takes the mound. Oh and he strikes out a lot of batters, goes deep into ballgames and has an ERA around 3 for the past two years. That's pretty much all you can ask for.

But here's why you give Price the first chance to sign: He's younger, and he's been a better pitcher than Scherzer (who is a year older) at pretty much every age.

You can quibble about that proclamation a bit if you like. The age 28 season was the first in five years Price posted an ERA (3.26) higher than Scherzer's (2.90). Scherzer also struck out more batters per nine innings than Price during the players' age 27 and 28 seasons, although Price closed most of that gap in the past year.

You start to look deeper though and you might find a few reasons to prefer Price.

He pitches deeper into games than Scherzer routinely, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has steadily improved each year. Price has been able to go an extra inning per start beyond Scherzer at similar ages, and his K:BB ratio of 7.13 far surpasses anything Scherzer has done in his career. (Scherzer peaked at 4.29 K:BB in 2013.)

And hey, the less the Tigers need their bullpen the better, right?

You can keep parsing stats, diving farther down the sabermetric hole if you'd like, but you get the drift. What you've got is two great starting pitchers, but you take the younger, better Price every time, everything else being equal.

So back to the original question: Scherzer or Price? Look to Price first, but as long as the Tigers can keep one of them in the organization going forward, they've made the right choice.

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