In case you haven't seen or heard or have been paying attention to sports over the past week, Max Scherzer has been signed by the Nationals to a seven-year, $210 million deal.
The Tigers' rotation is currently not in the best shape. They have Justin Verlander, who hasn't had a good season (by his standards) since 2012. They have Anibal Sanchez, who only tossed 126 innings last season, his second straight season pitching under 185 innings and 30 starts. They have Shane Greene, who is in his first full season. They have Alfredo Simon, who pitched to a 4.33 FIP last season in Cincinnati. Their only anchor in their rotation is David Price, who tossed the most innings and struck out the most hitters in the American League last season.
The Tigers need starting pitching. What would have happened if they had just extended Max Scherzer before his leverage increased after winning the Cy Young award?
(Before we continue, just make sure that I am talking theoretically here and about the past. Obviously, the Tigers never extended Scherzer and let him walk as a free agent this season. Second, Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, is rarely ever up for signing his players to extensions, usually letting them hit free agency.)
In 2012, Scherzer was coming off a strong season in which he pitched 187.2 innings, going 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and a 3.85 strikeout-per-walk ratio. He was a better-than-solid pitcher, but by no means was he worth $210 million guaranteed. Scherzer, coming into the 2013 season, had roughly four years of MLB service time, so what type of deal could have the Tigers offered him?
According to MLB Trade Rumors' Extension Tracker, plenty of starting pitchers received an extension in between four and five years of service time. One comparable pitcher to Scherzer, at least at the time, was Zack Greinke, who went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and a 3.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Greinke was given a four-year, $38 million deal ($9.5MM AAV) from the Royals, buying out two free agency seasons.
If Scherzer was given a comparable deal to Greinke at a similar time, he would still be with the Tigers this and next season. For a team that is desperate for a return to the World Series for the first time since 2012, two more years of Scherzer, at around a $9.5 million annual average value (what Greinke got), would be an absolute steal. That could allow them to sign more free agents and have payroll flexibility, while also being able to contend for a World Series title.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but if the Tigers had just locked up Scherzer early, they would be in a much better position right now. That is for sure.