Detroit Tigers free agent target: Starting pitcher Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer talks to the media during a press conference at the American League Division Series. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Max Scherzer talks to the media during a press conference at the American League Division Series. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers are in the market for starting pitching, and the best pitcher available is probably former Tiger Max Scherzer.

We’re deep into Contender November here at Motor City Bengals, where we’ll be suggesting ways the Detroit Tigers can become real contenders again. Last week we looked at all the big shortstop options, and some of the little ones, but this week we turn our attention to the mound.

Starting pitching is arguably a bigger need for the Tigers than shortstop. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal established themselves as decent mid-rotation starters this year, but the trajectory of their careers is still uncertain. Matt Manning showed some positive signs, and Tyler Alexander was a pleasant surprise, but neither pitcher seems like a sure rotation piece in 2022.

Meanwhile, Spencer Turnbull is out for the season, and Matthew Boyd and Wily Peralta might not be on the team at all. The Detroit Tigers likely need to find 60+ starts on the free agent market.

Max Scherzer probably isn’t a realistic option, but in the spirit of due diligence, we’re going to start at the top of the market and work from there.

Who is Max Scherzer?

This is probably a silly question for most fans. The simple answer is Max Scherzer is a future Hall of Famer, one of the top three pitchers of his era, and one of the most dominant starting pitchers of all time.

But let’s at least take a cursory glance at how he got here.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Max Scherzer of the University of Missouri with the 11th overall pick in 2006. No one questioned his arm talent, but there were serious concerns about his health and mechanics.

Scherzer considered returning to school, and briefly pitched in independent ball, but eventually Arizona met his price and he signed with the Diamondbacks. He was decent in his pro debut in 2007, and then excellent in 2008, posting a 2.72 ERA in 13 Triple-A outings, and a 3.05 ERA in 56 big-league innings.

But he backed up a bit as a full-time member of the Arizona rotation in 2009, producing a 4.12 ERA and an iffy 1.34 WHIP over 170+ innings. So the Diamondbacks, perhaps convinced Scherzer was better in the bullpen, sent him to Detroit in a huge three-team deal involving the Yankees. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Max Scherzer’s first two seasons in Detroit were good, but he still wasn’t fully weaponized. Things started clicking in 2012, when he led the league with 11.1 strikeouts per 9 innings, and it all came together in 2013 when he won his first 13 decisions and took home the first of his three Cy Young awards.

Max Scherzer turned down a big extension from the Tigers, something that led to an unusually sour public comment from the normally cagey and reserved Dave Dombrowski:

"President/general manager Dave Dombrowski spoke with reporters Sunday morning — and the team later released a statement — saying that the club made Scherzer a “substantial offer.” Once that offer was declined, the two sides agreed to end talks for the spring.“It was a very substantial offer that would place him among the highest-paid pitchers in the game,” Dombrowski said."

After another terrific season in Detroit, Max Scherzer moved on to the Washington Nationals, where he continued to rack up awards and accolades. He won two more Cy Young awards, threw two no-hitters, became the 14th pitcher in the Integration Era to strike out 300 batters in a single season, and threw the fifth 20-strikeout game in MLB history (against the Tigers, of course).

Scherzer picked up a World Series ring with the 2019 Nationals, but a rebuilding Washington club shipped him to the Dodgers at the deadline this year. All he did with Los Angeles was go 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA over 11 starts, and he’s a finalist for the Cy Young award yet again.

He generally pitched well in the playoffs, but he struggled in his lone outing in the NLCS, and reports of a dead arm in the postseason were mildly concerning, though probably not a long-term issue.

What Max Scherzer Would Do for the Detroit Tigers

This is another pretty simple question to answer. Max Scherzer would immediately give the Detroit Tigers a legitimate ace. He is not only an elite performer, but also one of the biggest workhorses in the game.

With the exception of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Max Scherzer has thrown at least 170 innings every year since 2009. No one has has more innings pitched (2,114.2) or strikeouts (2,596) over the last decade.

Max Scherzer is 37 now, so it’s probably not a great idea to bank on him remaining a workhorse for much longer. But he’s hasn’t lost any effectiveness. His fastball remains in the mid-90s, and he was among the hardest pitchers to hit this year. Scherzer’s competitiveness, skill, and work ethic would likely have a huge impact on Detroit’s young starters

The Cost of Signing Max Scherzer

There aren’t many comparable players to Scherzer, but we know he’s an ace, and aces don’t come cheap. The closest comparison we can probably make is Justin Verlander, who in 2019 signed a two-year, $66-million extension to cover his age-37 and 38 seasons.

It’s not entirely clear what Max Scherzer wants out of the rest of his baseball career, but it’s probably safe to assume he’d like to win another championship or two. The odds seem pretty strong that he’ll return to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one- or two-year deal that could pay him  $35-40 million a season.

The best chance for Detroit to overcome that might be a longer contract. Perhaps something like four years and $130 million could entice Scherzer to return, but that’s a pretty substantial risk for anyone to take on a pitcher his age.

So, Detroit Tigers fans will likely have to watch Max Scherzer finish his career elsewhere. But we encourage you to keep checking in for the rest of the week as we start digging deeper on a few more realistic options.

Next. Detroit Tigers Free Agent Target: Starter Jon Gray. dark