White Sox Free Agency: Max Scherzer roundtable/visionquest

To Scherzer or Not To Scherzer?

Ever since the Tigers made it very public that Max Scherzer had declined their offer of a contract extension back in March (and then turned around and immediately signed Miguel Cabrera to what may be one of the worst contracts of all time), it’s been clear that the 2013 Cy Young Award winner would be a free agent.

As our staff has written, the White Sox are going to have a ton of money free this offseason, have demonstrated an ability and willingness to compete in 2015, and a definite need in the rotation.

But will Scherzer be worth the money he will undoubtedly command this offseason? Pitchers are risky investments.

Nick: Okay, so, Max Scherzer turned 30 this July. He has a high effort delivery. Pitchers are known to implode at any given time and they command tons and tons of money.

But seriously, how cool would a rotation of Sale-Scherzer-Quintana-Rodon-Mystery Pitcher be?

Matt: It’d be cool, but I don’t know for how long. Serious tack on years are going to have to be paid for.

Collin: I’m kind of annoyed that this is going to be a discussion for a while. What kind of money is he going to command? 7-8 years, $180m+ (I’m being conservative with these estimates, too). I’m not interested in giving that kind of money to any pitcher.

I also don’t think the White Sox will show any serious interest. If last offseason is any indication, Rick Hahn & Co. aren’t going to look for a “quick fix” that makes them World Series contenders next year. Having a ton of money doesn’t mean you have to spend recklessly. And I think Hahn is smart enough to know that.

Also, you KNOW “mystery pitcher” in that dream scenario you laid out would be John Danks.

Nick: There is danger in saying, “Sure spend the money because what moves is it going to prevent them from making?” when you don’t know what’s going to be available or what it may prevent you from doing.

On the other hand, they’ve slashed down to the bone salary-wise. If they added $25 million a year they still have a Rays-esque payroll and, given their history, have another $60 million in flexibility.

If Scherzer in 2015 and 2016 makes them a playoff-caliber team - and a team that would be really, really dangerous in the playoffs once they got there - isn’t that worth thinking about?

Collin: It is worth thinking about, but pitcher contracts just terrify me. I’d personally rather spend a bit less on Jon Lester than what I anticipate Scherzer is going to command, if the White Sox are going to commit a bunch of money to a pitcher, however. Also, a rotation with four lefties would be kind of hilarious. Has that ever been done?

James: Why is a team that has Sale, Quintana and Rodon paying the FA super premium and risking, what, 5 years of possible sunk cost for rotation help?

Nick: I’m not sure what else they’re going to leverage their money on for a competitive advantage, for starters. Unless it’s banking on Cuba still being an undertapped resource and outbidding people for Tomas as well. I’m not super comfortable just penciling in Carlos Rodon to the rotation yet. And also, without taking a close look at it, it doesn’t feel like that second tier of guys whom you’d be happy about filling out the back of your rotation is really available in free agency.

Also, I think it’s more those guys who burn you - paying for a second tier free agent like C.J. Wilson or something. They have less margin for error when they decline than an elite guy.

James: When did we throw out “Max Scherzer pre-2013” in our analysis of him? I hate to be the guy who thinks of all the reasons a signing isn’t perfect, but this definitely happened. He definitely was C.J. Wilson pre-2013. He’s not exactly the diabolical perfect ace he’s been conceived as since we just replaced Verlander with him in our heads.

Which, is perhaps the most obvious statement I’ve ever bothered anyone with. Diabolical aces with impenetrable records don’t hit free agency anymore. The Sox need an upgrade at the No. 4, and this would promise that at the absolute least, and likely give a crap-ton more. Also, it would cripple the Tigers, and they’re likely too financially committed to fund an adequate counter move.

Furthermore, some men with more foresight than me--I think I saw Drew Fairservice arguing this on Twitter a while back--that the weakened run environment had decreased the value of pitching. When anyone can roll out of bed and throw a sub-4.00 ERA, the value of someone 20-30% above-average is reduced in its actual run value. You can only get so close to 0.00, and it slows down as it gets closer. But, with the Sox playing in U.S. Cellular, reducing runs still has more value for them than most other clubs. So overcorrecting the pitching staff could still be the smart play for them.

Nick: I get what you’re saying, and it’s a fair point -- especially on the general “Players’ Performance Over Their Careers Looks Like A Parabola” idea. But 2012 Scherzer was pretty awesome too, and I feel like you have to remember what kind of abysmal defenses he was pitching in front of those years.

And the run-scoring environment is a fair point too. It will be funny when the White Sox can’t find back-end pitching in a pitching-rich era after not being able to find adequate position players in a hitting-rich era.

And I also think diminishing returns is important to consider. I suppose what I’m saying is - the White Sox need to add something to their starting rotation, and is Scherzer actually going to

be the best value, because I don’t want them paying 80% of his contract to James Shields or whatever else falls in line after him respectively.

I suppose another alternative is Mass Bargain Bin Diving -- Josh Johnson types. I guess I’m just not ready to accept the idea that, “Well, with Sale and Quintana we don’t need anymore really good pitchers, just a back-end guy.” And yes, you don’t NEED better than that necessarily but we’ve seen what a lack of depth can do to a team that’s probably .500-ish when it’s best players are healthy and performing.

James: Maybe “Josh Johnson-type” is not the way to sell it.

I would argue that Sale is better than the typical No. 1 and Rodon has potential to be better than the typical No. 3, and they would likely sign a No. 2-3-ish guy to be No. 4, and that’s where the surplus value would come from.

I want to make it clear that “cripple, humiliate and enrage the Tigers” is by far my favorite argument for this.

Nick: I find it weird to alienate and jettison Scherzer over what I presume to be $10-30 million and then give Miguel Cabrera - 2 years away from free agency as a 33-year old or whatever - $300+ million through age 41 or so. Insane.

James: Dombrowski will wriggle out of it somehow. Tricky bugger.

Nick: All right, so here’s my thing: Scherzer, high-risk, high-reward. If the argument is a better move can be made, I would love to get an idea of what that would be. I suppose if you extend that out to trades maybe you figure something out. Mat Latos might be available for the right offer, for example.

James: Latos has pitched hurt most of this year and has a five-year pattern of declining strikeouts. He definitely fits more of the description of mid-rotation upgrade. I thought this thread was inspired by cocaine-fueled megalomania.


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