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February 14, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Thursday, February 14

by Daniel Rathman

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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
According to MLB.com beat writer Jason Beck, Scherzer is healthy and waiting for general manager Dave Dombrowski to open talks on a deal that could keep him in Detroit for close to the rest of the decade. The 28-year-old forewent his second year of arbitration eligibility by agreeing to a $6.725 million paycheck for 2013—nearly a $3 million raise from his 2012 salary of $3.75 million, which also came by way of a pre-hearing settlement.

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.

The Scherzer negotiations, if or when they get started, could have considerable implications for the free-agent class of 2014-2015. Felix Hernandez, who was due to hit the market for the first time that winter, inked a seven-year, $175 million extension with the Mariners last week. Clayton Kershaw is likely to prolong his stay in Los Angeles long before his service-time clock hits six years. And since Roy Halladay, who will be 37 at that point, showed chinks in his armor last year, the once incredibly loaded group could soon be down to only Verlander and Yovani Gallardo.

Scott Rolen will not be back with Reds
Rolen is learning the pitfalls of being 37 the hard way this offseason, as—after waffling on his status for 2013—he is now leaning toward playing, yet cannot find a home. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said on Feb. 6 that Rolen would “probably end up some place other than Los Angeles,” and if the veteran third baseman was still holding out hope that the place would be back in Cincinnati, he and general manager Walt Jocketty put those dreams to bed on Tuesday afternoon.

Jocketty thanked Rolen for his contributions to the Reds, and Rolen said that he is not “closing any doors.” Unfortunately, a mounting list of injuries and replacement-level performance in 157 games over the past two years may have closed them for him. With the Dodgers and Reds out of the picture, Rolen almost assuredly will be forced to settle for a minor-league pact, and then earn his way onto an Opening Day roster. He has made 2,026 major-league appearances, all of them at third base, and likely would need to show additional versatility to prove his worth on the field.

At this point, unless Rolen is willing to endure a roster battle next month, he seems likely to hang up his cleats. Assuming that reports over the course of the winter are accurate, no teams besides Cincinnati and Los Angeles have shown interest in the ACES client to date. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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