February 14, 2013
Thursday, February 14
Around this time three years ago, the Tigers found common ground with their ace, Justin Verlander, on a five-year, $80 million extension that bought out his first two years of free agency. In 2012, Verlander found a partner in crime in Max Scherzer, who delivered a 3.8 WARP effort to help fuel Detroit’s run to the World Series. Both of the flame-throwing northpaws are under the Tigers’ control through at least the 2014 season, and the latter hopes to stay much longer than that.
Scherzer seeks a long-term extension from Tigers
We’ll have to take Scherzer at his word when it comes to his desire to stay with the Tigers, but in general, his eagerness to sit down at the negotiating table is understandable. He is, after all, coming off of a breakout year in which he led all qualifying starting pitchers in strikeout rate (29.4 percent) and compiled a career-best 3.22 FIP. Those credentials impressed our “Arbitration Showdown” panel, and, had Scherzer held firm to his $7.4 million demand for the coming season, all three our arbitrators and almost four out of every five readers would have supported his case.
From the Tigers’ perspective, though, there are a couple of reasons to tread with caution. The first is the likelihood that the team would be buying high on a pitcher who produced consecutive 2.5-win campaigns in 2009-2010, but struggled in 2011, before his more recent emergence as an excellent wingman for Verlander. The second is Scherzer’s history of nagging shoulder trouble. As Beck wrote in the afore-linked article, both Scherzer and manager Jim Leyland insist that all of the ill effects from his late-season fatigue have subsided, but he has dealt with similar symptoms dating back to his days as a standout collegian at the University of Missouri.
Indeed, when Scherzer was a top prospect in the Diamondbacks system, many evaluators thought that his shoulder issues were the result of a rough delivery that would eventually force him to the bullpen. Kevin Goldstein ranked Scherzer as the third-best crop on Arizona’s farm before the 2008 season, but listed “Big-league closer” as his Perfect World Projection, and wrote that a shift to relief work “seem[ed] inevitable.” Since the start of the 2009 campaign, Scherzer has made 133 major-league appearances, and all of them have come as a starter. He remains a fastball-driven pitcher with high-effort mechanics, but neither of those drawbacks has brought about the expected fate.
At this point, barring more serious shoulder issues, Scherzer almost certainly will be a starter for the vast majority of his career. Nonetheless, the Tigers must assess the injury risk against the ace-level upside that he flashed last year, and determine whether the latter is tantalizing enough to overlook the former. Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who—unlike with free agent Kyle Lohse—is in prime position to milk every last penny from owner Mike Ilitch. And while Dombrowski has worked with Boras before, the agent has typically gotten the upper hand in their dealings, most notably with the nine-year, $214 million contract that he secured for Prince Fielder a year ago.