Earlier this week, Chris argued that the Detroit Tigers should look at Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka as a long-term rotation option rather than handing Max Scherzer a big dollar extension. It’s a position I’m sympathetic to — at the moment I’m in favor of letting Scherzer walk at the end of the 2014 season — but Tanaka is a viable alternative only if the price is right (to be clear, the Tigers have not yet been linked to Tanaka in a serious way).
"Six years, $120 million or so. That’s what you guys think Tanaka is going to sign for. That’s what I’m guessing too, though I won’t be too shocked if it’s ends up a bit higher than that. I would pretty surprised if it was much lower. As a general rule, the crowd has been consistently too low on large contracts; missing on Cano by two years, missing on Ellsbury by one year and $3M in AAV, missing on Choo by two years and $3 million in AAV, and missing on McCann by one year and $2M in AAV. If this estimate follows the trend of previous forecasts for big contracts, maybe a more realistic projection would be 7/$154, or almost exactly equal to the Ellsbury contract."
Let’s run with the crowd’s six year, $120 million for a moment because it was both (1) the consensus figure and (2) the conservative figure. According to the instructions put forth by Cameron in the original post, this dollar amount wouldn’t include the $20 million posting fee, so, if it was the Tigers who won the bid with this offer, they would be looking at a commitment of $140 million for six years of service (or basically $23.3 million annually).
If that’s the case, what would the equivalent deal look like for Max Scherzer?
The easy answer is $23.3 million per year for six years, but that’s really not the case because Scherzer isn’t a free agent at the moment. The Tigers still control his contract for another year, so a six year deal for Max would include one year of arbitration buyout followed by five years of free agency buyout. That would look like $13.6 million in year one (his estimated arbitration contract) followed by five years at $25.3 million each. That’s pretty much the same free agency AAV as the deal Felix Hernandez recently signed, except Hernandez’s deal was for seasons further in the future.
Basically, if Scherzer were to accept a six year, $140 million contract right now, his five free agent seasons would pay out at a higher rate than anyone except Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez (if my research is correct), which means it wouldn’t be an obviously low offer (assuming six total years would be acceptable to him). The calculus changes if he’s going to demand seven or more seasons, or if he thinks he deserves to be paid more than either of those two, but where I’m standing, $25 million per season doesn’t feel like a significant underpay for Scherzer.
Tanaka is younger than Scherzer, so that’s a point in his favor, but he’s yet to even throw a pitch in the major leagues (and Max Scherzer just won the American League Cy Young Award). So, if I’m Dave Dombrowski, and I’m choosing between six years and $140 million for Tanaka or six years and $140 million for Scherzer, I’m going to lean toward the guy who’s already proven that he can be an elite pitcher in this league.
These numbers only cover this specific illustration — Tanaka could sign for less or Scherzer could demand more (there are a lot of unknowns here) — but it does show that the additional posting fee owed to Tanaka’s Japanese team combined with Scherzer’s year of team control blurs the numbers enough that it’s not immediately clear which would be the cheaper/better option: six year of Tanaka or six years of Scherzer (though Chris was very right to point out the draft pick compensation Detroit could collect for Scherzer).
I am in favor of the Tigers kicking the tires on the Tanaka negotiations, and I’m not in favor of blindly extending Scherzer ahead of the 2014 season, but the actual, final numbers change everything, and we (as fans) aren’t privy to those numbers right now. This isn’t to say that I disagree with Chris’ premise — as I mentioned, I’m sympathetic to the “don’t re-sign Scherzer view — but it is to also say (as I’m sure Chris would agree) that the dollar line is relatively thin around which this sort of pursuit would make sense. Tanaka would have to be willing to sign for (somewhat significantly) less than the FanGraphs crowd suggests and Scherzer would have to demand more than six total seasons and more than $25 million per free agent season.
Oh to be a fly on the wall at the Tigers’ offices.