The reigning American League CY Young award winner, Max Scherzer, and the Detroit Tigers have put contract talks on hold for a while. It is certainly not the first time talks between a team and its star pitcher have broken down and it definitely will not be the last. An offer was supposedly put on the table, a “substantial” one according to Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski via twitter, but the offer was not accepted by Scherzer. Meanwhile, the all star pitcher’s agent, Scott Boras, claimed that it was the Tigers who rejected an offer and that his client only agreed to end talks until the season’s end. And so begins the typical ‘he said, they said’ typed discussions that seem to accompany high-priced negotiations in the world of sports.
Since joining the Tigers back in 2010, Scherzer has only gotten better with every season. He is playing at the top of his game right now and wants to be paid like it. Winning the CY Young combined with his stellar performance in last year’s post-season has given him all the leverage he needs. Not that it was necessary as the Tigers planned to resign their star 29 year old all along, but they probably would have preferred to get a deal done before the season in order to eliminate any of the unwanted media speculation that could potentially hang around. Detroit has received more than enough speculation after coming up short in the post-season for the past three years. That is why manager Jim Leyland is gone and new manager Brad Ausmus is in.
Now while some Tigers have lost their spark in the playoffs, Scherzer on the other hand has played brilliantly, especially in the past two post-seasons. In 2012, when Detroit advanced to the World Series, he started three games going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 17 plus innings of work. In 2013, Scherzer went 2-0 against the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. He started game two of the ALCS against the Red Sox and surrendered just one run after seven innings, leaving the game with a 5-1 lead before it was relinquished by the bullpen. He was later the losing pitcher in the deciding game six, but not before striking out eight batters in six innings of work. Scherzer has not been a reason for the Tigers post-season misfortunes, he has been one of the reasons they are in the discussion for World Series champs year after year. Tiger fans who were already worrying about the upcoming season will do so even more now that Detroit and Scherzer have put their contract talks on hold.
The last time the Tigers won the World Series Bill Cosby’s wacky sweaters were invading living rooms everywhere. Sure, 1984 is a lot better than the Chicago Cubs last series in 1908, but with the talent the Tigers have fielded for the past few seasons something has to give. And that something means either popping the champagne or becoming the 2000’s version of the Cleveland Indians of the 90’s, which is something neither the Tigers’ franchise or its fans care to think about.
That is why Detroit realizes the importance of signing Scherzer long term. He is crucial to their hopes of sustaining a championship level club. But they also know that he is not going to come cheap. And with veteran ace Justin Verlander already on the books for over 20 million this season, and 28 million per season through 2019, they needed to free up some cash to pay their second golden right-hander, which is possibly the biggest reason for shipping Prince Fielder out of town in the off-season. The loss of Fielder does take some power out of the lineup, but being able to pair Scherzer with Verlander for the foreseeable future gives Detroit arguably the best starting one-two punch in baseball. It would also make new manager Brad Ausmus’ job a lot easier as he gets acclimated to life as a Major League manager.
However, rookie manager or not, there is a lot of pressure in Detroit to produce after reaching the ALCS for the last three seasons, and being swept by the Giants in the World Series two years ago. After so much excitement has ended in heartbreak for Tigers’ fans they are hungry for a championship. That is why Scherzer and the Tigers must put contract talks on hold for a while because with the season swiftly approaching, the focus must be shifted to the field and out of the bank books.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky