Every once in a while I have been known to put a withering critique of columns written for the Detroit News, today I’ll break form and step in to defend one. Kurt Mensching (regularly of Bless You Boys) wrote a piece for them arguing that trading Max Scherzer might be smarter than trading Rick Porcello – and the reaction (at least as far as comments are concerned) has been extraordinarily harsh, ranging all the way from “you must be smoking something” to “I agree, you must be smoking something” to “how the hell did the editor not pull this story and then suspend/fire this idiot?” I wouldn’t be in favor of trading Scherzer – right now – but the idea is far from the dumbest I have heard this offseason.
Here are the key things to consider, if you’re looking for justification for putting somebody like Scherzer on the block:
1. Nobody seems eager to give up much to get Rick Porcello
2. Scherzer has issues with mechanical consistency
3. Scherzer has long been considered an injury risk
I am not in favor of trading away Rick Porcello (right now) for anybody but a future star, but it looks as though the most likely scenario is that he will be dealt sometime in the next two months for a valuable role player (like a lefty reliever or a 4th outfielder) or packaged to get a shortstop little better than Jhonny Peralta. There is no doubt that Max Scherzer would get far more interest and a much more robust prospect package than Porcello – GMs love strikeouts. It’s also questionable whether the Tigers could afford to keep Scherzer when he becomes a free agent following the 2014 season, but I don’t see why that by itself should influence Tiger decisions today. Really, the ideal situation would be to trade Scherzer this time next year after a 2013 season in which his stuff stayed crisp but his ERA matched his FIP. Despite having only one year of team control remaining, his value on the trade market would probably be higher than it is right now – maybe enough to fetch Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez from Texas to replace Peralta and Scherzer himself. That’s assuming that you care more about continuing to field a competitive team beyond 2014 than marginal increases in playoff odds for that 2014 last big run.
If that’s what you want to do – not hold onto Scherzer until either he, Verlander or both leave as free agents (though I assume they would get qualifying offer compensation) – it would make a sort of sense to trade him now rather with 2 years of control left rather than risk seeing him get hurt or simply be less effective in 2013. More to the point, if you are of the opinion that the team simply cannot continue to have more quality starters than rotation spots, dealing Porcello now would make it very hard to part with Scherzer after the next season. I am of the opinion that both Porcello AND Scherzer will probably put up better ERAs in 2013 than the did last year, but that is no given. It’s still more or less a given that dealing Scherzer at any time would hurt the team in the near term. Even if he got Profar and Perez today (or Profar, Olt and Perez) those are guys that could be expected to propel the team in the future but not to carry them today.
The Tigers want to win now and are going to have to suffer past 2014 as a result – whether we admit it to ourselves or not, I think that we all know this. Dealing Scherzer might actually be smart. For that matter dealing Justin Verlander might be smart, or Austin Jackson, or Miguel Cabrera. The Detroit Tigers don’t seem like they are going to do any of those smart things, any more than I’m going to be drinking less, hitting the gym more often or upping my 401K contribution. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be the smart thing to do – sacrificing Mike Ilitch is going to throw everything that he has at two big runs are World Series rings, maybe even a third in 2015 while Miggy is still under contract. Then we Tigers fans are going to be in for some hard times. And we might wish that Dombrowski had followed the advice of Mensching, a “Nazi Storm Trooper trying to undermine our society and create social unrest”. When you come right down to it, we’ll probably wish that Dombrowski had had the guts to deal Verlander when he could have fetched the sun, moon and stars (or at least the Rangers entire farm system).