One of the reasons you hear Max Scherzer discussed so infrequently around here is the unspoken assumption that he’ll be signing with the New York Yankees. There are conflicting reports about the Chicago Cubs’ interest in the top arm on the market, in part because of the expected price, and in part because of a reported preference for Jon Lester (who is probably just behind Scherzer in overall desirability). And then you’ve got the Yankees, with a clear need for pitching, and a seemingly limitless pile of money to throw around.
It just made too much sense to really think about Scherzer going anywhere else, let alone to the Cubs.
But, well, a report from Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden indicates, via a source, that the Yankees do not presently plan to pursue Scherzer. Or Lester. Or James Shields. Or Pablo Sandoval.
The source instead indicates that the Yankees prefer to focus their available dollars on bringing back Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy. Given that I think both are very attractive second tier free agents, I certainly can’t fault the Yankees for prioritizing their return. But will the Yankees really forego the top tier of the market? We’ve heard these kinds of rumors before, and ultimately the Yankees wind up spending big. Is this time different? There are certainly reasons to believe the Yankees can’t keep playing the top-of-the-market shell game, because the back-end of the deals they hold keep getting bigger and bigger and the players on them older and older. Those deals stack up upon each other with the volume of dead years exponentially outweighing the fresh deals the Yankees can sign.
If the Yankees really do pass on all of the biggest names, the market becomes very interesting. The Phillies are rebuilding, the Angels are up against the luxury tax cap, and the Dodgers may be trying to bring payroll down. Could the Cubs and Red Sox wind up the biggest spenders in free agency this year?
I frequently discuss the attractiveness of the post-2015 free agent class as a reason to perhaps not go too nuts this offseason, and, while I stand by that, if the largest bidders exit the market this particular offseason, the Cubs may have a unique opportunity to stack free agent signings this time around in a way they might not have next year.* You don’t want to back yourself into a corner or create a situation where you’ve got too many large contracts coming into their decline phase at the same time, though, so it’s not like I’m going to pout if the Cubs continue to play by the “18-month window” plan to add impact starting pitching at some point between this offseason, the next Trade Deadline, and next offseason. There’s plenty of merit there, especially when the next free agent class is loaded, and this class has lots of interesting second tier options.
*(With a competitive 2015 season, the Cubs won’t have a protected pick after next year, and the “cost” of signing a top free agent next year will also be more painful. Just sayin’.)
For the record, I’ll believe the Yankees are sitting out Scherzer when I see it. And I’ll believe the Dodgers are cutting payroll when I see it. And it’s not like other teams don’t pop up, ready to spend big every single year.