Sep 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the third inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer's contract rejection and what the rotation could look like in 2015

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Detroit Tigers and Max Scherzer announced that they were unable to work out a long term deal before the regular season began, making Scherzer a free agent once the 2014 season ends.

The Tigers reportedly offered Scherzer a deal worth $144 million over six years which Dave Dombrowski said was the largest deal rejected by a player that the Tigers have offered.

I’m one to believe that a player should be able to make as much money as they possibly can, and for Scherzer to do that, he must wait until he is on an open market.  I understand why Scherzer and his super agent Scott Boras set a deadline for before the regular season; it is now not a distraction as he pushes to add to his resumé in 2014.  Scherzer does need another year similar to 2013 for him to be paid like one of the top pitchers in the major leagues.

For the Tigers, I think the Scherzer extension was more of a priority this spring than what they led on.  The Tigers wanted two aces in their rotation for the next five to seven years, and they felt that Scherzer would cost them less if they could sign him before the season.

The substantial offer to Scherzer shows the Tigers’ deep interest in retaining the reigning AL Cy Young award winner.  The days where the Tigers are going to throw money at players (Prince Fielder) seem to be coming to an end which was evident after the Fielder contract dump to the Texas Rangers, but Scherzer is different.

Pitchers have taken the league by storm over the past few years and Dombrowski knows that.  Judging by the offer to Scherzer, Dombrowski and the Tigers know what they have regarding Scherzer.  The contract offer tells me that the Tigers believe 2013 wasn’t a fluke, and Scherzer had many more great years left in him.

Now, it will become more difficult to retain Scherzer because of teams like the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers, who seem to just be able to spend money on free agents at will.

The Yankees will be all over Scherzer this winter.  CC Sabathia has been declining the past couple of years.  Michael Pineda can’t stay healthy, and Hiroki Kuroda, who recently turned 39 years old, has pitched over 200 innings in each of the past three seasons.  So, to keep expecting consistency from Kuroda shouldn’t be in the cards.

Masahiro Tanaka was signed this offseason by the Yankees to a seven year, $155 million deal.  Scherzer would cost more than that, and in all likelihood, the Bronx Bombers will offer Scherzer more than what Tanaka received.

Boras knows all of this, which is why Scherzer turned down the Tigers’ mammoth deal.  From the Tigers perspective, I don’t believe they are too worried about their No. 2 spot in the rotation not being filled for 2014.

I do believe that Scherzer does like being a Tiger and staying in Detroit could ultimately be where he decides to reside for the next six or seven years. But, if he isn’t retained, the Tigers aren’t likely to enter 2015 with Anibal Sanchez as their No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander.

A total of $41.525 million will come off the books after the 2014 season when Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez and Scherzer will all become free agents.  The money will be their for the Tigers to still negotiate with Scherzer or another top of the line pitcher.  

The acquisition would have to come via free agency.  The Tigers don’t have the pieces in the farm system to trade for someone’s top of the rotation pitcher.  It cost the Tigers their No. 1 prospect (Jacob Turner) to land Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins in 2012, and the Tigers need Castellanos to be a contributor at the major league level, especially since the Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks injuries.

Guys that could fill the void left by Scherzer’s potential departure include: Jon Lester, James Shields, Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson.  The first choice is obviously Scherzer, but the Tigers are going to need some outfield help as well as putting together a competitive bullpen for 2015.

The Tigers could save some money (not a lot) by signing one of the other top pitchers, and then they could throw some money at a quality outfielder or even a Miguel Cabrera extension, so the slugger can end his career in Detroit.

Their will be bottom of the rotation pitchers available as well, but I don’t see the Tigers acquiring a pitcher of that kind because of the plethora of young arms in the farm who can fill a fringe rotation role.  Robbie Ray‘s ETA is 2015, and the Tigers could look to him to be the No. 5 starter.

I see Ray taking a path similar to Smyly, though.  The Tigers will have the No. 2 spot in the rotation filled, but will need Ray for the bullpen, similar to Smyly in 2013.  Ray should make his rotation appearance a year later for the Tigers.

I saw on Twitter from a Philadelphia Phillies fan about the Tigers trading for Cliff Lee at the deadline.  While the Tigers rotation would look even more impressive with a lefty like Lee, they don’t have anything to give to the Phillies.

Many more teams will have better offers if the Phillies begin to flounder.  A trade mid-season is totaling out of the question for that reason and because there are no rotation spots available, but that could all change in three months.

Not signing Scherzer to a deal right now won’t be the last opportunity for the Tigers.  The two sides are going to have to meet in the middle, but it will be easier for Scherzer to swing negotiations come winter because of more teams being involved, and Boras knows that.

Dombrowski won’t allow one of the top rotations in the American League to crumble.  The Tigers will have a top of the line starter slated behind Justin Verlander come 2015; it just may not be Scherzer.

 

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