Although Jon Lester has received the bulk of free agent attention this week (a week in mid-August, I should point out), there was also a little bit on impending free agent Max Scherzer, who will be considered by most to be the top arm available in free agency this year.
Though some traditional stats don’t agree, Scherzer (2.87 FIP, 4.14 K/BB) is putting together mostly the same kind of performance that last year won him a Cy Young. That performance, and some self-confidence, led Scherzer to decline an extension offer from the Tigers before the season that the Tigers say would have made him one of the top paid pitchers in baseball (apparently more than $140 million total).
He will reach free agency and be paid handsomely before turning 31 next season. With the Chicago Cubs expected to spend – handsomely? – on starting pitching in the next 18 months, will Scherzer be on their radar?
It depends on whom you ask.
This week, Nick Cafardo wrote that, “the Cubs are ready to spend for pitching. Lester is familiar with the Cubs brass, but the Cubs also have Max Scherzer on their radar. The Cubs would rather sign free agents than trade away their best prospects.”
And, at this point in the year, having the top free agent starter on your radar, when you’re in the market for a top free agent starter, makes sense.
But in recent weeks, Dave Kaplan has been fairly adamant that Scherzer is not a guy the Cubs will pursue:
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) July 31, 2014
Scherzer is about to complete his sixth straight big league season with at least 30 starts – the guy is something of a machine – and the Cubs would not yet have had access to any kind of in-depth medical reports on Scherzer. Further, Scherzer’s fastball velocity is basically in the same range it’s always been (slight downtick with aging, which happens to everyone). So it’s a little hard to know what Kaplan is alluding to, other than perhaps mechanical red flags that jump out to the Cubs. Because, by all external indicators, Scherzer is healthy and projects to be as healthy as any other post-30-year-old pitcher.
So, will the Cubs be in on what projects to be a very, very pricey pursuit of Scherzer in the offseason? I’ve got to believe that they at least have them on their radar, as Cafardo put it. From there, whether they’re willing to go into the $160 million range to get him is another question entirely.
It’s conceivable that Scherzer could wind up costing as much as Jon Lester and James Shields combined, when all is said and done. If that’s how the market shapes up, things will get interesting. Besides: Scherzer seems like an obvious Yankees target, doesn’t he?