The Tigers off-season success depends on whether Max Scherzer will return or not. Scherzer is the top free agent on the market, and the Tigers need him back after he went 55-15 (unreliable stat, but holy smokes) with a 3.24 ERA, which is even HIGHER than his 2.94 FIP. Basically Scherzer is the ace of the Tigers, and losing him would have a huge impact. Need proof?
|Shane Greene||0.6||4||Rick Porcello|
|Alfredo Simon||1.9||6||Max Scherzer|
|Yoenis Cespedes||4.1||0.4||Torii Hunter|
|Alex Wilson||0||1||Joba Chamberlain|
|Anthony Gose||0.5||0.3||Ezequiel Carrera|
|Josh Zeid||0||-0.4||Don Kelly|
|Total Gain||7.1||11.7||Total Lost|
|With Scherzer||13.1||5.7||Without Scherzer|
Scherzer is a six-win player according to Baseball Reference WAR, and his replacement, Alfredo Simon, is only worth 1.9 WAR in his career year. Look at that swing in WAR too. The team is about four wins worse going into 2015 without Max, but with him they become eight wins better.
Now there are a few disclaimers here. It’s unlikely that all the players perform exactly the same, and WAR doesn’t literally measure how many wins your team will get, but it gives us the best idea of the meaning of Scherzer to the Tigers. The Tigers without Scherzer are about the 90 win team they were last year, but with him they could be a 95-98 win team easily. Moving Simon back to the bullpen could be huge, in a very good way for the Tigers too. Simon was a very good reliever in 2012 and 2013, and he’d be the odd man out of the rotation if Scherzer comes back.
Scherzer also makes the top three guys in this rotation a healthy Justin Verlander, David Price, and himself. Can you imagine facing that in a series? Anibal Sanchez isn’t a shabby four starter either.
Scherzer is only going to be 30-years old too, so it’s as safe an investment as you can make on the market right now. He rejected the Tigers six-year, $144 million deal in spring training, but the deal still might be on the table. He has struck out with the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, and Giants so far, so this could end up being between the Nationals and Tigers.
In 2013, Baseball Prospectus did a study and found that on average, the cost per one-win above replacement for a pitcher is $7.6 million for a player with over six-years experience (A player becomes eligible for free agency after they have 6 years of service time). This puts Scherzer at about $43 million a year on the market. You see Scherzer has had a 16.9 WAR over the past 3 season and if you do a quick calculation of 16.9/3 you get an average WAR of 5.63 a year. Multiply that by the $7.6 million per win on average that a seventh year and beyond is worth and you get a whooping $42.81 million.
Obviously, he won’t get that, because at the end of a deal he’s going to be 36-37 and he won’t be a 6 WAR a year player anymore. Basically, the point is that if the Tigers get Scherzer for fewer than $30 million a year, it’s not a bad investment.
Scherzer has thrown less innings than a lot of guys, who get huge deals north of $150 million too. Scherzer is a good bet to be decent into his age 35 season.
As the cherry on top think about this too, baseball is a crazy game, and teams spend hours analyzing things in different ways while players work their tails off to be successful. The ultimate reward for all this is a World Series title.
The Tigers have made four straight postseasons in hopes of this, made it the ALCS three times, and the World Series once. All this and nothing to show for it. Now of course the Tigers still and try to build so they have a good future too, but they are definitely in “win now” mode. How much sense does it make to re-sign Victor Martinez, 36, to a four-year deal, trade for Yoenis Cespedes, and make small improvements all to watch the guy who has been your best pitcher, and a top pitcher in the league for the past two seasons walk away in free agency? That doesn’t make much sense to me, and Dave Dombrowski is a very smart guy.