By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – The contract Max Scherzer allegedly rejected would have paid him at least $24 million per year, according to ESPN. Evidently the Detroit Tigers offered Scherzer a deal with a slightly lower average annual value than that of teammate Justin Verlander, but Scherzer still would have been among the six highest-paid pitchers in the game.
Making $24 million or more on average per season would put Scherzer in exclusive company. The only other pitchers with deals that lucrative are Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers ($30.7 million per year), Verlander ($25.7 million per year), Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners ($25 million per year), Zack Greinke of the Dodgers ($24.5 million per year), CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees ($24.4 million per year), and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies ($24 million per year).
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters at spring training that the offer for Scherzer was a new record for the highest amount he had offered a player only to have the contract rejected. Agent Scott Boras, known for encouraging players to test their market value in free agency, said the Tigers rejected an offer by Scherzer.
Regardless of which party offered the amount and which turned it down, if the amount was $24 million per year, the contract likely placed too high a value on Scherzer after one marvelous season following several solid ones.
Scherzer’s fantastic 2013 season allowed Detroit to go as far as it did in the postseason, but looking at his career statistics compared to those other pitchers making $24 million or more per year, Scherzer still has much to prove. The other hurlers on that list had done much more than Scherzer has at this point before they signed their monster contracts.
Scherzer had an ERA of 2.90 in 2013. The previous season, his average was 3.74, and in 2011 it was 4.43. In 2010, Scherzer’s ERA was 3.50, and in 2009 his average was 4.12. By those numbers, Scherzer has pitched solidly throughout his career, but he has only displayed bank-breaking potential in a single season.
Cliff Lee signed his big contract after the 2010 season. That year, he had recorded an ERA of 3.18. In 2009, Lee’s average was 3.22, and in 2008 Lee turned in a league-best ERA of 2.54. Cole Hamels got his hefty contract extension in 2012. Hamels had recorded ERAs of 2.79 in 2011, 3.06 in 2010, 4.32 in 2009, 3.09 in 2008 and 3.39 in 2007.
CC Sabathia re-signed after the 2011 season, by which time he was a four-time All-Star and Cy Young winner. His highest ERA in the previous six seasons was 3.37, while his second-highest average during that span was 3.22. When Justin Verlander inked his huge extension last March, he did so as a pitcher who had already finished in the top three of Cy Young voting three times, won an MVP award and been selected five times to the All-Star Game.
Felix Hernandez was already a multi-year All-Star and Cy Young winner when he signed for the big money before the 2013 season. The previous four years, he turned in ERAs of 3.06, 3.47, 2.27 and 2.49. Clayton Kershaw’s numbers have been simply otherworldly; the man has not put up an ERA above 3.00 since his rookie season. He was already a two-time Cy Young winner who had the best ERA in the league three straight years when he signed his contract in January.
Perhaps the only pitcher on this list with a resume more similar to Scherzer’s prior to his big contract is Zack Greinke. After he put up a sizzling 2.16 ERA in 2009, Greinke turned in averages of 4.17, 3.83 and 3.48 – good but not necessarily great. It should be noted that Greinke gave the Dodgers their money’s worth in 2013, turning in an ERA of 2.63.
Without a doubt, Scherzer pitched better than anyone else in the American League in 2013, and his numbers have improved year by year. That said, Scherzer’s resume still has a ways to go before it compares to other pitchers making what the Tigers reportedly offered Scherzer this offseason.