Why the Tigers Had to Pass on Scherzer

First things first.  The Tigers’ 2015 rotation, as it stands right now, does not look better than last year’s rotation.  Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene won’t provide what Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer did.

However, although the Tigers were considered to have the best rotation in baseball the past three years, they kept falling short of winning it all.  This was mainly because of their bullpen, which has been the baseball equivalent of the Green Bay Packers’ fourth quarter and overtime defense at Seattle this past Sunday.  In other words, no matter how safe the lead looked in any given game, it never really was safe.  The disasters in Game 2 at Boston in the 2013 ALCS and in Game 2 at Baltimore in last year’s ALDS confirm that.

The offense going cold was also a culprit.  Anyone remember the 2012 World Series?  That wasn’t the only playoff series in which the Tigers seemed like they forgot their bats, but it is the strongest example.

With all that being said, I believe letting Scherzer walk makes sense because it will give the team some needed financial flexibility in the next few years.  The team is already paying out huge contracts to Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander.  The sad performance of Verlander the last two years even better illustrates why it was smart to let Scherzer walk.  You simply couldn’t afford to sign a pitcher who will turn 31 during the upcoming season to a 7-year contract worth over $200 million.

Per MLive, the Tigers already have $80 million committed to the three players I named, as well to Texas as part of the price for getting rid of Prince Fielder, in 2018.  To put that in perspective, $80 million is more than a few teams spent on their entire roster last year.  And, don’t forget that David Price – who pitches deeper into games than Scherzer and should have more longevity based on his pitching style – will be a free agent after this coming season.

Right now, I am not going to predict how the Tigers will do this year.  We still need to see if any moves take place before Spring Training, and who heads north with the big club in April.  My gut feeling is that the team will struggle to reach last year’s win total (90) because little has been done to address the bullpen, but who knows?  There are so many variables that come into play that it is impossible to think through when it’s still only January.

But, to summarize, I feel that letting Scherzer go was smart because:

  1. Going forward, the team needs to be able to improve in other areas. As good as the starting pitching has been most of the last few years, it still hasn’t resulted in that elusive World Series title.  As of now, the bullpen looks like it will still be a roller coaster.  But offensively and defensively, the team should be better with Yoenis Cespedes replacing Torii Hunter, Jose Iglesias returning, and Anthony Gose platooning with Rajai Davis in center field.
  2. Having seen what happened with Verlander recently, it’d be hard to justify giving an even bigger contract to a hard-throwing righty who has been very successful, but not quite as successful as Verlander at his best (think 2011-2012). Even over his last 9 starts in 2014, including the playoffs, Scherzer had 4 games in which he gave up 4 earned runs or more.  He also had a game where he gave up 3 earned runs in 5 innings.  This worried me at the time because even though it was a small sample size, it was the very same pattern we began to see with Verlander in May 2013, shortly after his contract extension.

Well, those are my thoughts on the issue.  I’d love to hear yours.  It’s hard to imagine on this snowy, dreary day, but we are just over two months from Opening Day!

About Mike B.

Avid sports fan, particularly of the Detroit Lions, Pistons, and Tigers, and University of Michigan.
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