By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw just received the most lucrative contract in Major League Baseball history, and agent Scott Boras is probably rubbing his hands together in glee.
Not only will Boras get commission on that massive contract, but his other star pitcher client, Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer, becomes a free agent after the 2014 season.
Kershaw’s big deal came on the heels of his second National League Cy Young Award and his fourth straight season with an ERA under 3.00. Scherzer, the winner of the American League Cy Young Award, won 21 games in 2013 and finished the season with an AL-best 0.970 WHIP and an ERA of 2.90.
Scherzer’s statistics, though excellent this past season, do not compare to those of Kershaw, even taking into account that Kershaw pitches in the NL, where hurlers face pitchers instead of designated hitters like AL pitchers do.
Kershaw, who will turn 26 in March, was selected to his third straight All-Star Game this year and had the best ERA in the NL for the third straight season. Kershaw won the Cy Young in 2012 and 2010 and finished second in 2011.
The Tigers will probably hear about Kershaw’s deal when they go to discuss the possibility of resigning soon-to-be-30-year-old Scherzer since market value assigned to other high-caliber pitchers is often a factor. The team also demonstrated a willingness to pay big bucks when it shelled $180 million to 30-year-old Justin Verlander.
Boras can certainly argue that Scherzer is on the upswing, on the cusp of the kind of statistics that so propelled the value of Kershaw and Verlander. However, at this point Scherzer has not equaled the feats accomplished by Verlander and Kershaw before those two got their gargantuan paydays.
Scherzer’s 2013 season was spectacular. He won 21 games, he started the All-Star Game, and then-manager Jim Leyland named him the number one pitcher in the Tigers’ playoff rotation.
Before finishing 2013 with a 2.90 ERA, Scherzer turned in averages of 3.74 in 2012, 4.43 in 2011, 3.50 in 2010 and 4.12 in 2009.
In the same four-year span, before Kershaw’s terrific 2013 season in which he finished with a 1.83 ERA, Kershaw recorded ERAs of 2.53 in 2012, 2.28 in 2011, 2.91 in 2010 and 2.79 in 2009.
In the four seasons before Verlander signed his big contract, Verlander turned in ERAs of 2.64 in 2012, 2.40 in 2011, 3.37 in 2010 and 3.45 in 2009.
Kershaw, whose pitching right now is simply otherworldly, got $215 million for seven years. Verlander, whose performance was excellent but not as sustained as Kershaw’s, got $180 million for seven years.
What Scherzer will get once he becomes a free agent remains to be seen, and it will certainly depend on his performance in 2014, the follow-up year to what was by far the best season of his career to date.
The Dodgers and the Tigers have had some of the highest payrolls in baseball. Los Angeles certainly stayed true to its reputation with the signing of Kershaw, and Detroit set a precedent for that type of spending with the Verlander deal.
If Scherzer can build on his performance in 2013 and produce similar statistics – an ERA under 3.00 and 15 or more wins could be good enough – he might well look for a deal that rivals that of Verlander.
If Scherzer does command that kind of money, the Tigers might not want to dish out another hundred-million-plus for another pitcher that would be in his upper 30s by the time a long-term contract expires. Competition for Scherzer’s services could drive his price somewhere between Verlander’s number and Kershaw’s number.
The Tigers already have a high-level starter in Justin Verlander, the AL ERA champion in Anibal Sanchez, two solid young pitchers with room to grow in Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly and a minor-leaguer they believe will soon be a starter in Robbie Ray. With that kind of starting depth, Detroit might decide Scherzer is simply too expensive.
What it all comes down to is that a successful 2014 for Scherzer will likely mean the end of his tenure with the Tigers.