Baseball agent Scott Boras is the best in the business, and he's representing hometowner Max Scherzer, the most appealing free-agent pitcher on the current market.
Max is the biggest prize, which means he'll also command a huge contract. A $200 million figure has been thrown around, and that may be a hopeful or even unrealistic overestimate. But Boras has secured so many outrageously impressive contracts for his clients through the years, it would be silly to dismiss $200 million as some crazy fantasy. When the Detroit Tigers tried to re-sign Scherzer last spring, Boras and Scherzer rejected a six-year, $144 million deal. Boras obviously figured he could get a lot more than that on the open market.
Over at Sports on Earth, AJ Cassavell wrote an interesting piece about setting Scherzer's value, and you should read it. Here's Cassavell's conclusion: Scherzer is worth a seven-year deal for $175.5 million. Cassavell believes Scherzer can provide two or three great pitching seasons, followed by two more good years, and then two "serviceable" years. (Presumably, the seventh year would be the season of regret for the team that signed Scherzer.)
Cassavell's model makes sense. Over the past three seasons only Clayton Kershaw (19.2) and Felix Hernandez (17.9) have amassed a higher WAR (wins above replacement) than Scherzer (16.5) among MLB starters. Max's strikeout rate (10.46 per 9 innings) ranks second over that time. And over that three-year span Max is tied for seventh in fielding independent ERA (2.94), eighth in quality starts, and 11th in innings.
Individual pitcher win totals can be terribly misleading, so read these numbers with caution ... but over the last three seasons Scherzer is 55-15, and that includes a 39-8 mark over the past two years. No MLB starter has matched that winning percentage.
Scherzer is 30, but his arm-odometer (career innings pitched) is relatively moderate when compared to many other age-30 (or so) starters. Of course there are always risk factors — elbow or shoulder injuries, a steep age-related decline, or just a general failure to deliver value for the dollars. As we've written before, long-term monster contracts for starting pitchers haven't worked out very well. But there are exceptions.
But if Scherzer can stay in peak form (or close to it) for three or four more seasons, he'd be worth five or six extra wins for his team each year. And in a tight division race or wild-card chase, that's enough to put his boys in the winner's circle. And Scherzer would likely be more effective in the National League, where he'd get to face pitchers instead of designated hitters.
I'm interested in Scherzer's final destination for several reasons. I'm a baseball fan. He's a St. Louisan. He's a fun pitcher to watch. I know Max's dad, Brad, who is a great guy. And the Cardinals have been linked to Scherzer as a potential darkhorse to sign him.
What about the Cardinals? Are they in the hunt? Or just doing a little bird watching?
It's tough to read GM John Mozeliak, but as I have said all along, I think the Cardinals are lurking and monitoring the Max market.
In the short term, adding Scherzer would help the Cardinals hold off the Pirates (and other potential risers in the NL Central) in 2015. And he'd certainly be one helluva response to the Cubs' signing of free-agent starting pitcher Jon Lester.
The value of Scherzer's pitching performance aside, the Cardinals could have a couple of other things working in their favor.
The classy Scherzer would be wildly popular in as a hometown pitcher, representing the Birds on the Bat. Somehow, some way, that would translate into a revenue boost for the Cardinals' treasury.
And would Scherzer be willing to settle for less money to sign with the Cardinals? In the past he's expressed his desire to pitch here. It's his dream job. But Boras isn't in the business of giving hometown discounts, so we'll see.
ESPN's Buster Olney recently said the Cardinals told Lester's agent that they wouldn't go higher than $120 million to sign Lester, who received $155 million from the Cubs. But that $120 million limit (if factual) was for Lester. It doesn't mean the Cardinals have the same dollar figure in mind for Scherzer. The Cardinals, like all teams, likely have different price points for individual pitchers.
But a starting point was established by Lester's six-year, $155 million deal. Scherzer almost certainly will command more than that.
So Scherzer may be too expensive for the Cardinals. They can afford him, but that isn't the point. It comes down to how they assess his long-term value and the inherent risk factor in dishing a biggie contract to a pitcher.
The Cardinals may sit this one out and watch as other potential buyers (Yankees, Tigers, Dodgers, Giants, maybe the Red Sox, or sleepers such as the Nationals or Angels) circle Max, with one team eventually making a serious play for him. (If I had to make a wager here, I'd put my $2 on Scherzer reuniting with the Tigers.)
The Cardinals may decide to part with young talent and/or future assets to make a trade run at lefthanders Cole Hamels or David Price. But Hamels and Price also represent risk; Hamel is owed four years and $94 million on his Philadelphia contract, and Price (now a Tiger) can become a free agent after '15. The durable RH James Shields is still available on the free-agent market, but he's 33.
Or the Cardinals could decide to do nothing and stay with their tentative rotation of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez — with the young Marco Gonzales in the wings as an alternative.
The Cardinals have another option: waiting until the trade-deadline period to pursue a starting pitcher if necessary. By then Mozeliak will have a much better read on the shape of his rotation. He'll have a clearer picture on Wacha's health and viability, Lackey's ability to pitch effectively at an advancing age. Mozeliak will know if Martinez is ready for the responsibility of providing quality rotation innings for a postseason contender. Mozeliak will have a chance to watch Wainwright and be on the lookout for signs of increasing wear and tear.
There is no danger-free zone here.
There's a risk if Mozeliak goes all-in on Scherzer ...
There's a risk if he trades young assets for a one-year rental ...
A risk if he trades young assets for an aging starter ...
There's a risk in doing nothing.
And a risk in waiting too long.
It's an interesting time for Mozeliak and the Cardinals. They have tried to wave off third-party Scherzer speculation, but it hasn't gone away. And he's still there. So the chirping will continue.
What will the Cardinals do?
Will it be all _ or nothing at all?
Thanks for reading ...