Henning: Letting Scherzer walk was still best decision

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Notes, thoughts, items as the Tigers battle in Baltimore, trying to turn around a season and ease some heat on a skipper who seems forever in the fans’ doghouse:

Not signing Max Scherzer was still the right move for Detroit.

Scherzer fired bullets past the Tigers during Wednesday night’s game as if he were shooting with a high-velocity rifle, equipped with telescopic sight, rather than throwing baseballs with a human arm.

As much as the 20 strikeouts made headlines, it was his strike-ball ratio — a preposterous 96-to-23 — that staggered. It’s normal for a pitcher to throw twice as many strikes as balls. Scherzer threw four times as many.

That left much of the Tigers world saying: Why didn’t they try harder to keep a pitcher this spectacular in Detroit?

Well, they did. And, of course, owner Mike Ilitch was smart not to have upped the $144 million he initially tossed at Scherzer attempting to keep a superstar pitcher who doubles as a financial marvel in a Tigers uniform.

It was extra money — tens of millions of extra paychecks — Ilitch was wise not to have spent, just as it was brilliant for Scherzer to trust the free-agent auction block would bring him what came to be an extra $65 million.

Some perspective:

Scherzer in 10 weeks turns 32. This amazing fury with which he pitches can, and will, continue for a while. But it has an expiration date. In fact, it’s approaching, even when Wednesday implied something different.

Rather than be on the hook for another half-dozen years of paydays pushing $200 million, Ilitch backed away, knowing his team could pare debt and in the process grab a consolation prize in the form of an early draft pick as compensation from the Nationals.

The Tigers used that pick to bring aboard a left-handed college slugger and outfielder, Christin Stewart, from Tennessee.

Stewart on Thursday led all of America’s minor leagues in home runs with 12. He had slugged these 12 homers in 32 games at Single-A Lakeland, all while rolling up an on-base average of .370.

So, whether Stewart does or does not crash the big leagues, remember it wasn’t a straight forfeiture when Scherzer was allowed to gorge on the Nationals’ spectacularly expensive offer.

Sometimes you have to say no. Fans who would have mutinied had the Tigers not signed Miguel Cabrera, or Justin Verlander, might agree a club sometimes needs to back away, accept the draft compensation, and practice some fiscal sense all while becoming potentially a better and more competitive club down the road should the inherited draft pick pay off.

Nick Castellanos in a lineup is good. Putting him in the outfield isn’t.

Rather than sit Castellanos in Wednesday’s game against the Nationals, all because baseball foolishly allows the designated hitter in one league and not the other, Castellanos sat in the dugout, paralyzed when manager Brad Ausmus had no realistic options for simultaneously playing him, Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Ausmus had decided to be democratic. Each star hitter would take a night off during the Washington series. It was the only way to be fair to three guys who all deserved to play.

If you’re sitting in the Tigers manager’s seat, that’s probably the way you too would decide things. If your job is something other than Tigers manager, and you have no stake in the sensitivities involved, it’s easy to say Castellanos should have played. He was on fire. And you do not — not even for the principle of fairness — bench Castellanos, or so it would have been determined by many of us.

Some saw a solution. Simple, intuitive. You simply start Castellanos in left field, given Justin Upton’s miseries and the fact Castellanos played a year-plus in the outfield during his minor-league apprenticeship.

One problem. Or, rather, there are multiple problems, with that remedy.

This isn’t slow-pitch softball. You don’t automatically treat players as interchangeable parts even if they once wet their feet at another position.

Castellanos might well have gotten a hit or two Wednesday, maybe a home run the way he’s been going, against Scherzer.

He might also have butchered badly any number of balls hit his way in left. He had not played in the outfield in nearly three years. He was not a natural outfielder even after he had been shifted there for a long interlude.

The idea he could be transplanted to left, and immediately track ball flights, adjust to depth perception and balls screaming at him from a background of bright lights, etc., is fantasy.

Not having been the guy who would have benched for a second night one of the great hitters in baseball history, I’d have stuck with Castellanos.

What I wouldn’t have branded as anything other than folly is a notion Castellanos could have survived in left.