The ultimate hammer has dropped. Just when pundits and smart asses alike might have been questioning Max Scherzer and douche canoe super agent Scott Boras for turning down a guaranteed $144MM extension last spring from the Detroit Tigers… BOOM! Seven years, $210MM. The antichrist does it again.
Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Scott Boras clients going to free agency. The Boras gamble paid off this time, and frankly, it does more often than not (how do you think Ryan Madson feels though?). At face value it looks like a no-brainer, right? However, imagine being Scherzer during the 2014 season. I would have gone to bed every fourth night praying to the almighty not to turn my arm into papier-mâché the next day. Comparing sports or even transcending it to real life is by and large a superfluous exercise but ask yourself: would you reject a $144MM lottery ticket for the chance at $210MM in 10 months? If so then you’re probably in the minority. The best speculation at the time was a $175MM contract. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s all a matter of risk tolerance. And Boras plays that game with his clients’ lives better (or worse) than anyone in sports. I severely dislike that man for systematically ruining baseball. But I digress.
Do not ignore two subtle aspects to this signing: (1) turning down a substantial extension was a very risky play, and (2) the creativity of this deal could create different opportunities for payroll flexibility particularly for small and mid-market clubs. Organizations might look to replicate Scherzer’s signing bonus and/or deferred money much like Dennis Martinez and Bobby Bonilla in the past. Fifteen million dollars for fourteen years and a fifty million dollar signing bonus dispersed over an undisclosed period of time? Now that’s creative.
One last comment on Scherzer’s deal. Take his comment about the Nationals “commitment to winning” with a grain of salt. If I were a sporting fella I’d wager that ol’ Maxwell wanted to get out from Justin Verlander’s shadow in Detroit. And don’t think that Scott Boras didn’t have a hand in it. When Boras brokered Alex Rodriguez’s then record-setting deal of 10 years and $252 million (2001), he later admitted that dollar amount was specifically targeted because it was double the richest contract ever in sports, Kevin Garnett’s $126MM (1999).
So, what’s the difference between a 26-year old lefty and a 30-year old righty? Apparently, about $10 million dollars and deflated National League numbers.
Will one of these guys be the next Johan Santana? Scherzer will benefit from not facing a DH anymore but I do not like this deal. Perhaps I am influenced by my small market-ness in Cleveland but long-term contracts for starting pitchers typically leads to an imbalanced payroll and leveraging too much on the short term. Look at the Detroit Tigers. They tried to spend their way to a World Series only to dump Prince Fielder’s contract. And Mike Ilitch has been spending money like he’s a coupon kid at a BOGO sale.
I will call my shot right now: we are starting to witness the demise of the Detroit Tigers. Trading Porcello, Scherzer bolts, David Price is a free agent in 2016, banking on Victor Martinez not to decline with age, MiLB pipeline underwhelming, this formula adds up to a catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. And I can’t wait!
What’s the next domino?
As smart business people do, they let the higher commodity set the market. We would have expected James Shields to be no different now that’s Scherzer’s deal is in place. Unfortunately for Shields he’s on the wrong side of thirty; 33 to be exact. To date he has only made $39MM in his career, 35% of which came in 2014. If he is lucky he will get two paydays before he hangs up his cleats. Otherwise it’s one and done. When 1b or type-2 players sign after a 1a we usually see one of two things: regression towards the mean or over-indulgence caused by missing out on the former. Due to Shields’ age I would bet on the former. If you are a fan of a team in the American League Central then Scherzer and Shields leaving the division is a good thing.
Movers and Shakers
Has there been a more active hot stove in recent years because I cannot think of one. Legitimate All Stars on the move. I mean, the Kansas City Royals go from darling MLB story and World Series losers to now… a destination place for free agents? Huh? We all knew it was only a matter of time before Boston started spending like gangbusters to atone for their awful brand of baseball post-Theo Epstein but the Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Padres, the ASTROS and the MARLINS? What in Barry Bonds’ flaxseed oil is going on? Two words: television money (but that’s a story for another day).
And, of course, bringing up the rear are my Cleveland Indians. A ballclub which fancies themselves as opportunistic players in the free agent market. Right or wrong, they attempt to leverage particular situations to their advantage (see NYM/Michael Bourn overtures). Problem is they have a recent history of being wrong. Yoenis Cespedes? No. Yasiel Puig? Uh-uh. Nick Swisher? ALL-IN, BABY! Or more appropriately, this:
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