The canniest general managing in the game of baseball isn’t by the book, it’s mastering the art of buying high, selling low and investing in resources that other GMs undervalue.
I wrote a bit earlier about the big choices that Dave Dombrowski (and Mike Ilitch) will have to make next offseason in their attempt to keep the Tigers competitive despite salary inflation. They’ll need to move salary, get their hands on a cheap and productive middle infielder and put some more good arms in the Toledo rotation (or the Detroit bullpen) IF they want to compete in 2014 and beyond while keeping payroll from drifting much above $150 million.
It’s possible that the best time to make such a move (though I am by no means implying that the Tigers intend to do anything of the sort) might be now. There are only a handful of teams that have what the Tigers need, could spare what the Tigers need, and need what the Tigers have to spare. What the Tigers have to spare is – largely – limited to any extra starting pitcher of high quality. Plenty of teams do have good shortstops in the high minors, but few would consider parting with them. The team that fits both is the Boston Red Sox, for now.
The Red Sox have the best record in the American League at the moment, but in an extremely competitive AL East (where the worst team is .500) they’re not likely to feel that they have enough. Ace Clay Buchholz is on the DL and rumors have it that the Red Sox are scouting starters, including Ricky Nolasco and probably Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs. If Garza goes to the Sawx, and the Cubs are reportedly interested in making their trades early this year, the Red Sox likely won’t need a Tigers starter or have anything left with which to acquire one.
And, so, I propose a silly, ridiculous trade: pretend to wave the white flag and send Max Scherzer to Boston – soon.
In return? Insist on SS Xander Bogaerts and righties Matt Barnes (the pick the Tigers coughed up to get Victor Martinez) and Allen Webster. Three top-100 prospects is a mighty big haul, but then Max Scherzer IS 12-0 and a front runner for the Cy Young award. And, the Sox can get by without these three guys – in addition to Stephen Drew and Wil Middlebrooks they have an excellent 3B prospect in Garin Cecchini tearing up AA and a 23-year-old defensive wizard at short in Jose Iglesias. Bogaerts is an elite prospect – but they don’t need him. With the addition of Scherzer, and their whole rotation under contract for 2014, they wouldn’t figure to be counting on calling up Barnes or Webster any time soon. If the Tigers are intending to extend Max Scherzer and are quietly planning to go into 2014 with a payroll between $160 and $170 million then this idea is nonsensical. If they don’t figure they can afford to sign him to that extension and are planning to move one of their starters in November – then it might, because he’s not likely to fetch a price nearly this high in the offseason – even if he pitches just as well in the season’s second half. For Boston specifically, the team may not need a pitcher in November and these prospects may already be elsewhere.
The question would come down to the relative value of wins this year versus wins over the next 5 years. In the thick of the playoff chase, the Tigers are obviously not going to be willing to forgo 2013 wins lightly. Nonetheless, it is going to become exceedingly difficult to field a 90 win team over the next 5 years without relatively radical moves lest the Tigers face a fate like the Phillies of the past couple of seasons. I’m aware that this sort of thing simply isn’t done. But does that necessarily mean that it never should be?