Detroit Tigers win now, but still look to future

With each passing start of pure brilliance turned in by Max Scherzer, the likelihood of him returning to pitch for the Detroit Tigers next year and beyond reduces ever so slightly.

Scherzer predictably turned in another gem against the lowly Astros on Monday night, raising the Tigers’ overall record to 18-9 and creating 4.5 games of separation between 1st and 2nd place in the AL Central.

Scherzer will turn 30 in July and has followed up his Cy Young campaign in 2013 with an even better start in ’14. He is 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and a dynamite 60:12 K to walk ratio over his first 47 innings. He is the ace for the Tigers. He’s only getting better. And his free agency price tag is only going to climb.

Max ScherzerPassionate fans around Detroit vilified Max for turning down the $144M the Tigers offered him several weeks ago. But it wasn’t a betrayal from a player who loves representing the Tigers on and off the field; it was simply a business decision. Saying no to $144M seems crazy, until you say hello to $200M.

I took some comfort in his decision not to extend with Detroit because it told me one thing with absolute certainty: Max is 100% healthy. Had there been even a shadow of a doubt regarding his health coming into this season he might’ve taken the deal. His decision to pass on such a fortune meant that if this will indeed be his Motor City swan song, that it’s going to be a thing of beauty.

Back-to-back Cy Young awards? It sure looks that way. But what does it mean for the Tigers beyond 2014?

The future arrives on the mound tonight at Comerica Park as 22-year old lefty Robbie Ray (prized possession in the Doug Fister trade) will make his major league debut, filling in for the injured Anibal Sanchez. Ray has posted a 1.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a sparkling 21:5 K to walk ratio so far for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.

The young southpaw is developing rapidly and is probably major league ready right now. Will a home start against the pathetic Houston Astros offense tell us much about Ray’s long-term potential? Of course not, but that’s not the point.

Next year the starting five for the Tigers will almost certainly be Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, and Ray. This is a nice mix of veterans and youth, righties and lefties.

The 2015 payroll savings when going from what Scherzer will make (north of $25M/year I’d assume) to Ray’s miniscule salary will give the Tigers all kinds of flexibility next offseason.

Keep in mind that another $26M comes off the books via the expiring contracts of Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. Oh, and $1.9M courtesy of Phil Coke hopefully saying farewell once and for all.

Detroit will have to fork over some hefty arbitration-based raises to Rick Porcello and Austin Jackson while Justin Verlander’s jumbo deal leaps $8M from $20M to $28M next year and beyond. Regardless, this team will without a doubt head into 2015 with a much more manageable payroll structure.

Should the Tigers re-up Victor Martinez or is it better to unlock the designated hitter slot to help prolong the shelf-life of Miguel Cabrera? This will probably be GM Dave Dombrowski’s toughest offseason decision.

I can certainly imagine the Tigers without Hunter’s services, so long as he is replaced by a capable hitter with a stronger defensive presence in right field. But the Tigers without VMart? That’s a tough one folks.

What I do know is that options are a good thing and as painful as it will be to watch Scherzer depart, it is going to free up this organization to continue to get younger and better for the long haul.

And that starting rotation next year, if Ray lives up to the promise, is still going to be incredibly good.

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  • Michael Thelen

    I am always optimistic , all sunshine and unicorns, and that article helped feed me. Thanx

  • schemaXYZ

    I’d give even money right now that Scherzer will be in a Yankee’s uniform next year, making 200 million or more – which makes me sick to even think of it. It’s all too bad, because with Castellanos appearing to be the real-deal, Detroit could become close to a dominant team for the foreseeable future. The city of Detroit could use some good news…for once.

  • Al

    Good article, very interesting thought’s
    Now how about your thought’s on Brad Ausmus. So far I think he’s doing great. Hated to see Leland go but if he ad to I think we might have got a good replacement!

  • jeff s

    Very good article. We Tiger fans tend to dwell on what we are losing and don’t have, thus overlooking the positive. Like having more payroll flexibility and youthful mix. It has been a long time since Detroit has won a World Series, but I think most teams would love to be in our situation.

    • Joe White

      Thanks Jeff. I agree with your last point completely.

  • Matt

    Although early, I am looking at potential FA in 2015 and not much to speak of at the OF position (Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera, then a decent drop off to Mike Morse). I wouldn’t mind re-upping Hunter on a 1 year deal if he continues to produce…bring back V-Mart and spend that money in the ‘pen.