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MLB free agent prediction: Max Scherzer

Where will the Tigers' former ace sign? What will you be drinking when you perform a spit-take after hearing about his new salary?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't that long ago that this headline appeared on the SB Nation network of blogs:

Brandon Morrow and Max Scherzer: Who Is Better?

It's like reading an article in Variety from 20 years ago titled "Poll: Pulp Fiction or Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead?" It's alternately amusing and confusing that the question needed to be asked. The answer was Scherzer, who won a Cy Young and made two All-Star teams. Now he's likely to make more over the next season-and-a-half than he has for his entire career to this point.

Who will pay him? How much?

Back to that 2011 article for a minute. It wasn't included so you could laugh at the premise or wince at the insecure writing. It was to remind you that Max Scherzer, Unquestioned Ace is still kind of a new phenomenon. He finished 2011 with an inflated ERA, and he was a quality-stuff, middling-results enigma straight through the first half of 2012. His second half was stellar that year, though, and he never stopped being one of the best pitchers in baseball. He won the Cy Young the next season and came fairly close this past season. Scherzer will make his next team much, much better, but it's worth remembering that we're about 30 months and 70 starts into the idea that Scherzer is this excellent.

Which isn't to suggest that you should be skeptical. Just watch him pitch with his best stuff, and you'll understand the numbers. This is smoke, hold the mirrors, and he plays the role of ace and workhorse as well as his predecessor did for Detroit. Scherzer and agent Scott Boras read the market beautifully, turning down $144 million from the Tigers before the season started. They'll get more than that now. Even if you start whittling the unlikely teams away, you'll have a cool dozen teams that would at least consider giving Scherzer the deal the Tigers reportedly offered. That means you'll have at least a couple willing to blow past it. He's going to make so much money. Don't forget about Boras getting five percent of whatever Scherzer is paid. That buys a lot of human hearts.

Our job is to find that team. We'll start with ...

The Ideal

You know what? I'm tired of being objective. I've been doing these free agent predictions for years, and I've been wrong almost every single time. That's alright. It's part of the business. The being-wrong business, of which most baseball writers are accredited members. Maybe the reason I'm wrong so much is because I listen to much to what's in here ...

/points to head

... and not so much what's in here.

/puts hand on heart

You know where Scherzer would look good? San Francisco. That's where he could pitch in thick marine air, humiliate pitchers every three innings, face the San Diego Padres four or five times a month, and enjoy one of the only outfields in baseball that can compare to Comerica Park in spaciousness. The Giants, as of right now, have Tim Lincecum as one of their projected starters. After that is a career journeyman, who has never held a rotation spot in the majors. After that is a 39-year-old pitcher who finished the season like a 49-year-old pitcher. The Giants' rotation is shockingly thin. It was in the postseason, too, but Madison Bumgarner isn't going to pitch half of the Giants' regular-season games next year, which is what happened in the postseason.

The Giants' rotation is shockingly thin. It was in the postseason, too, but Madison Bumgarner isn't going to pitch half of the Giants' regular-season games next year

And they're rolling in money. They've made reference to the Rainy Day Fund, which is where the Giants will sock away money for the inevitable future when the sellouts stop happening and the even-year magic desiccates and falls off the vine. That's fine. That's prudent. But they can still afford another Zito, even as they continue being the ant to the rest of the league's dour grasshopper. They can still afford to be a little more of a payroll powerhouse.

Not that I want them to. Unless we're talking about the kind of speculative deal that Bumgarner picked up, long-term deals to 30-year-old pitchers are horrible ideas. The Giants got lucky that Tim Lincecum gambled and turned down nine figures, and the results of the Matt Cain extension have been underwhelming so far. If there's one team that knows the perils of overpaying pitchers, it's the Giants.

The idea of them being after Scherzer should make sense, though. It would certainly be a snug fit, from a purely baseball perspective.

The likely

Yesterday, I would have picked the Cubs. The day before that, I would have picked the Red Sox. The day before that, I was having a really bad day, and I would have picked the Dodgers. Then this rumor popped up:

Rumor: Tigers may look to trade David Price

Which would you rather have?

  • David Price for a year, along with a draft pick after losing him
  • David Price for several years, many millions
  • Max Scherzer for several years, many millions, along with a huge prospect haul after trading David Price

I like Price better as a pitcher, but that's splitting hairs. They're clearly comparable as rotation-leading aces. The correct answer is possibly Price and Scherzer for as long as you can swing it, prospects be damned, but if the Tigers can really afford just one, I'll take Scherzer and the prospects.

David Price

Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The dark horse

The Dodgers started Clayton Kershaw on three day's rest in the NLDS because they didn't have a fourth starter. They have two aces and a dandy #2, but their decision to avoid pitchers like Jon Lester and Price was a huge surprise. When the fates of the prospects are written in cuneiform, there will probably be a funny "They didn't trade Andy LaRoche for whom?" joke to make at the Dodgers' expense.

They're too rich for a mystery team. They're the omnipresent team. Andrew Friedman made his mark at the helm of a budget-conscious franchise, but that's because he had to be. Give him the gift of Scherzer, and he's not going to look it in the mouth.

Prediction

Going with the folks who brought him. The Tigers don't have $1 billion in committed payroll for 2020, but that's because there's only so much time in a day. Give them some extra chances and they'll get there. Mike Ilitch gives zero bothers, clearly, and there's some merit to the idea of recouping prospects if there's not enough room for both Price and Scherzer.

Max Scherzer - Detroit Tigers, eight years, $169 million.

If it sounds beyond outlandish, that's because it is. The one thing I've learned over the years is to start the prediction at "outlandish" and then grope for "beyond outlandish." That usually gets one pretty close to the absurdities of the offseason.