*Note: this post was written prior to the twitter-shattering trade between Texas and Detroit last night. Keep in mind that the Tigers now most definitely have the resources to retain Max Scherzer for the foreseeable future if they want. Whether or not they want to, however, is still unclear.
As you’ve probably noticed in our Offseason Plan, Ryan and I emphasized a need to upgrade the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff. For years, fans have complained that Arizona has been without a true “ace.” While an the term “ace” itself can be misleading and “ace” pitchers may or may not even exist depending on your perspective, clearly there’s a need for a big improvement within the rotation.
Enter Max Scherzer. The Tigers are said to be listening on the Cy-Young winning right-hander due to his future salary obligations and their other commitments. It’s clearly not a matter of his effectiveness as Scherzer put together a 6.4-WAR season in 2013. His 2.74 FIP over 214.1 innings and his 10.08 K/9 indicate what we all saw: he was dominant. But the Tigers have to live under the same rules as everyone else and have a boatload of money tied up in
Prince Fielder Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Ian Kinsler. Scherzer is entering his last arbitration year in which he’s projected to make of $13M, after which he’ll be a free agent and open to the highest. If the Tigers don’t have the funds to extend him and would like to get something in return for Scherzer, they have to deal him now. It’s not clear that this is definitely the plan they’re going with, but it’s been mentioned that it’s a possibility.
Enter the Diamondbacks. Patrick Corbin came out of nowhere to lead the pitching staff after Ian Kennedy, the Opening Day starter, ran himself right out of town. Behind him was a sub-par performances by Brandon McCarthy and some serious inconsistency from Trevor Cahill. Wade Miley came on strong to close the year and Randall Delgado made improvements, but you can see where I’m going with this: there’s no anchor to this pitching staff. Tyler Skaggs may or may not be with the team when the winter ends and Archie Bradley appears to be the real deal, but youth isn’t something that the Diamondbacks, a team that wants to contend right now, can bank on.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the term “ace” get’s overused and some have argued that it shouldn’t get used at all. But whether or not we want to use the term, the Diamondbacks could definitely use a more dominant, reliable commodity like Scherzer. The opportunity to acquire a Cy-Young winner who’s only 28-years old is pretty rare. These types of pitchers don’t grow on trees and teams that have them tend not to deal them. The Tigers have a surplus of good arms and a budget pinch forcing their hand.
Could the Diamondbacks take advantage and what would a deal for Scherzer look like?
This deal would have to be huge. It’s the kind of transaction that defines a GM’s career and changes the course of the entire organization; from marketing to merchandise, from win curves to payroll and from prospects to the next decade of players on the field. Let’s just assume that if a deal was made, the organization would be willing to make a budget exception for Scherzer’s talent and sign him to a extension immediately. To mitigate some risk to the franchise, the team decides to keep the deal shorter in length and higher in AAV. Something like 5/$116M makes sense as it locks in Scherzer and buys out his last arbitration year. He makes $20M in 2014 (rather than his projected $13M from arbitration) but takes less money than some other aces in 2015-18 at $24M per season. He would push the Diamondbacks’ payroll to the $115M range immediately, about $15M more than forecast, but a lot of money starts to come off of the books for Arizona in 2015 and beyond and Scherzer could in fact be very affordable throughout the life of the deal.
But this isn’t a free agent signing, this is a trade. What would the Tigers demand as compensation? Archie Bradley. Yeah, I said it and you may not like the idea, but you’re essentially trading a guy who may turn into a number one for a guy that’s a sure-fire number one right now. The Tigers have a really poor farm system and they would likely want to use Scherzer to turn it around. Bradley would be the jumping off point and it’s likely that the team would require more from Arizona before sending Scherzer packing.
The best comp we have from recent memory is the James Shields trade from last winter. In exchange for the very underrated Shields and mystery man Wade Davis from Tampa, the Royals sent their number one prospect Wil Meyers to the Rays along with their second-best pitching prospect and number four prospect overall in Jake Odorizzi, plus two other lesser prospects. I would argue that the value of Shields was very similar to that of Scherzer; Max gets the edge in pitching but Shields was cheaper, resulting in a near wash. Therefore, the Tigers would likely demand Bradley and Chris Owings in the deal. Bradley becomes the Tigers’ top prospect immediately and Owings is their Opening Day second baseman when they let Omar Infante walk. Their up-the-middle defense would great with Jose Iglesias and Owings, helping to mitigate the ongoing defensive disaster that is Miguel Cabrera at third. Throw in two other pieces and presumably, Arizona could have Scherzer back (remember, he started out his career in the desert).
Scherzer would immediately be the team’s number one and force them to move somebody out of the current rotation to make room. As we projected, that man is Trevor Cahill and Scherzer should represent a 2.5 to 4-win marginal upgrade. For a team that needs to find eight marginal wins this offseason, Scherzer gets the team close all by himself. A tweak here or there and some regression could account for the rest and all of a sudden the Diamondbacks aren’t someone to take lightly.
But we didn’t include this move in our Offseason Plan for a reason. First, we dont’ know how serious the Tigers are about shopping Scherzer beyond the tidbits that have been leaked suggesting that it’s an option. Second, Kevin Towers has made some bold trades but this one might just be too bold. After two losing seasons, if this were to somehow not work out, Towers might have a hard time finding a job as a GM again in the future. If Diamondbacks fans have to watch Bradley turn into the second-coming of Verlander while pitching right behind him in the Tigers’ rotation, the fan base would never forget it. The farm system would be without a real impact talent and the payroll landscape would be effectively altered for the next five years at least.
Suffice it to say, this move is just too much to see happening, but one can dream, right?
*Follow up: Dave Dombrowski commented on Scherzer after the trade went down and did not sound definite about re-signing the pitcher. That said, I still believe that they get a deal done for the long term rather than trading the Cy Young winner as their window to win a championship is two, maybe three more seasons. Scherzer helps them maximize their window without a doubt, more so than anyone they could get in return for him.
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