Opinion: Tigers Should Go For Scherzer, Luxury Tax And All
By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT - Well into January, the offseason's hottest commodity still sits on the market, and the Detroit Tigers and other high-budget teams remain skittish about admitting interest in him. The Tigers wanted to keep starting pitcher Max Scherzer, offered him a generous deal after his banner season of 2013, and even now, general manager Dave Dombrowski will not close the door on the idea of him returning.
Signing Scherzer would require a massive financial commitment, likely an even larger one than the Tigers made to Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million) the same year Scherzer won the Cy Young. Such a contract would almost certainly put Detroit over the luxury tax threshold, but whether the Tigers would let that hinder a pursuit - or whether they should - has been a topic of much discussion.
I believe the Tigers should go for Scherzer, but for a variety of reasons, it makes sense that Detroit would be hesitant to offer a Verlander-esque deal.
For one, the Tigers currently possess one of the best examples of the danger in giving a massive contract to a pitcher who is more than 30 years old. Verlander has struggled - in part due to injury - since inking his monster deal. It now seems likely that a best-case scenario would be three or four solid-to-above-average seasons out of him. The Tigers took the risk when they signed him, and some team will do the same with Scherzer. That team could be Detroit, but its experience with Verlander could lessen the probability of that happening.
Aside from the concern that Scherzer might not be worth the money, the money could just be too much no matter how well Scherzer performs. Dombrowski does not discuss payroll limits, but the Tigers have only gone over the luxury tax threshold once, in 2008. That season demonstrated resoundingly - Detroit finished fifth in its division - that money does not always equal wins.
Since last season the Tigers ended up under the threshold, whatever amount they spend over that mark this season would be taxed at 17 percent, the lowest rung on the bracket. If Scherzer gets the figure near what has been reported - let's assume $200 million for seven years - the Tigers would be on the hook for $28.5 million. If that entire amount were taxed at 17 percent, it would cost Detroit an additional $4.86 million. While that cost might not be prohibitive, the penalties going forward - 30 percent on any amount over the threshold if they crossed the line again in 2016, for example - could certainly prevent the Tigers from splurging on Scherzer.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons the Tigers could want Scherzer back.
The organization has made its mission a World Series, and few would dispute the team is more likely to achieve that goal with Scherzer than without him. Owner Mike Ilitch has demonstrated a willingness to open his pocketbook for exceptional players - designated hitter Victor Martinez the most recent example - and clearly wanted Scherzer back after the 2013 season. After winning a Cy Young that season, Scherzer's numbers were almost as good the following season. Will he produce in the future? Since he does have less mileage on his arm than other pitchers his age, it seems likely he could throw at least another two years, maybe more, at his current level.
For the moment, Detroit's starting rotation consists of Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. Verlander's health - and consequently his production - have been issues the last two seasons. Price was up-and-down after arriving in Detroit at the trade deadline last year. Sanchez missed much of the season with injury. Simon and Greene are relatively unproven. The group could turn out to be fine, even very good, or it could go in the other direction. Surely, the Tigers would like some insurance, both for 2015 and beyond. They already know Scherzer, how he works and how he fits in the clubhouse. Above all else, he is the best option available for a team that wants an ace.
Do the Tigers want Scherzer back? Should they try to get him back? I would, depending on how much he and Boras demand and depending on whether Detroit can avoid going over the luxury tax threshold in upcoming seasons. Scherzer has shown himself to be relentless in his drive to improve his game, he appears to be well liked by his teammates, and so far - fans, knock on wood here - he has proved extremely durable, pitching at least 30 starts in each of his six full major league seasons.
Investing in Scherzer is inherently risky because of the amount of the investment, but in my mind, the risk is worth taking.
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