Max Scherzer is open to an extension with the Tigers

Ezra Shaw

Should the Tigers be open to an extension with Max Scherzer?

Last week, I wrote about the kinds of players you don't want to extend proactively -- that is, extend more than a year before they're going to be a free agent. It was a veiled excuse to wonder openly if the Aaron Hill extension was a good idea. (Probably not.)

The obvious complementary piece to that one would be a list of the players you would want to extend proactively. Except that would be a boring list:

  • Young players who haven't reached arbitration, or who have just reached arbitration
  • Young players who are good
  • Young players

Of course the Angels want to extend Mike Trout right now. And, of course, Trout is cool with waiting. He might get $80 million if he were to give up his pre-arbitration years, but if he waits for free agency, he might get $250 million and the option to ride Arte Moreno around town like a Clydesdale. He's probably not going to get to excited when the Angels approach him for an extension.

But there's an exception to the list dominated by young players, and this player doesn't really fall into an easy category. He's not especially young (he'll be 28 in July), he plays an at-risk position (pitcher, and he's not especially durable, plus he's suffered from shoulder problems). And this mystery pitcher is also … oh, his name is in the headline. Max Scherzer. We're talking about Max Scherzer.

His name comes up as a possible extension candidate because he brought it up:

And so, if they would want to include me in their long-term plans, I want to be a part of it because of the atmosphere and culture here in Detroit."

Scherzer just signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, but it sounds like he's open to a long-term deal. He's eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, so there's no rush. And where I'd normally run the other way when the topic is "extension" and "pitcher with a shoulder strain", Scherzer is just too fascinating to ignore completely. First, we have his strikeout rate:

Year Age SO/9
2008 23 10.6
2009 24 9.2
2010 25 8.5
2011 26 8.0
2012 27 11.1

It's not like Scherzer couldn't strike anyone out before, but he became a strikeout demi-god last year. If I had to make an uneducated guess, I'd point to a faster changeup as something that's different. Except that doesn't make any sense. He threw more sliders. Maybe that's it. Nothing else changed except for the contact hitters made on pitches out of the strike zone, so maybe it's just a sample-size issue.

But as a candidate for an extension, I think he's so risky that he almost becomes sensible. He still has two years left, so he doesn't have nearly the same bargaining power that he would as a free agent. While he says his shoulder is fine, just the mention of shoulder problems should bring his price down a bit, and it should also put enough fear of Prior into him to make him consider shooting for his one big contract right now.

Add up the risk and reward, and I think I'd seriously gamble on a Gio Gonzalez-type contract for Scherzer right now if I were the Tigers. If he repeats his season (or improves), his price will shoot up next winter. Let's just see if there's more to that article from up there.

Agent Scott Boras' usual preference …

aw crap

... is to have his clients test free agency and use the market to maximize their value. It usually takes quite a deal to get away from that, though Boras clients have signed long term in some cases. Jered Weaver is a recent example.

Weaver has finished in the top-five in American League Cy Young voting in each of the last three seasons, but he signed a five-year, $85 million contract in August, 2011, a year before he was to become a free agent. If Zack Greinke signed for $159 million, I don't think it's unrealistic to think Weaver left close to $100 million on the table.

So Boras clients aren't all under some kind of voodoo hypnotism. He works for his clients, and eventually he has to listen to them. If Scherzer wants to sign a below-market deal right now, he could do it.

But if I'm Dave Dombrowski, my eyes would narrow in suspicion if the idea of an extension came too strongly from the Scherzer side. Anything too team-friendly would make me wonder about the shoulder even more. A reasonable deal for both sides doesn't seem like one of Boras's specialties, and there's no reason for the Tigers to overpay when there are two seasons left for them to make sure Scherzer's shoulder is sound.

No extension for Scherzer, then. But he's still one of the more interesting players to watch this season. And for all of my blather about caution and prudence, I have a strong suspicion that he'll keep the strikeout gains and become something of a beast this year, which means he'll get really expensive for the Tigers to lock up. But if the shoulder wasn't enough to scare me off, the combination of the shoulder and Scott Boras certainly is. The Tigers might be thinking the same way.

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