Well, strap in. Things could get really interesting from here.
The second wave of pitching dam might be ready to break open, with Jon Heyman reporting that Max Scherzer has indeed agreed to sign a seven-year deal with the Washington Nationals. Rumors of the impending deal, and possible resulting fallout, swirled yesterday.
Ken Rosenthal adds that the deal will be worth more than $180 million. The best guess here is that it’s going to look very similar to the Jon Lester deal – but just with one more year at approximately the same AAV. I think that’s probably the right way for those two contracts to shake out, though I prefer the Lester deal for the Cubs over the life of the contract, not only because it’s one year shorter and less total money, but also because I think Lester is probably the better bet in years 3, 4, 5, 6, even if Scherzer is likely to be the better pitcher in the next two seasons.
Assuming Heyman and Rosenthal are correct, there’s a lot that could come quickly down the pipeline. First of all, the James Shields market might shake out as soon as this week. That, in turn, could impact the Cole Hamels trade market, with the top two free agent arms off the board. And the Hamels trade market will continue to be impacted by the availability of other arms on the trade market (there are rumors that Yovani Gallardo is going to the Rangers in trade, which could then open up the Brewers to get involved in adding another pitcher).
And then there’s the question of what the Nationals will do next. Their rotation, with Scherzer, is utterly insane: Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez. Maybe they just say what the hell, and go with it in 2015. But the rumors have pretty consistently held that, if the Nationals were going to add someone like Scherzer, it was going to be part of a combo process whereby they then trade one of their other starters, most likely Jordan Zimmermann (who makes $16.5 million in 2015 before reaching free agency), or possibly Doug Fister ($11.4 million in 2015). The idea in doing so is that having Scherzer under control beyond next year (for not much more than it would cost to extend Zimmermann, possibly) PLUS getting prospects/players for Zimmermann is worth more than keeping Zimmermann for one year and trying to extend him after the season. I actually think it’s a pretty smart way to play this situation, which is why I fully expect Zimmermann (or another pitcher) to be dealt.
The guy you’d sneakily want to poach from the Nationals is Tanner Roark, the 28-year-old righty who broke out last year (and, incidentally, is from the Chicago area). He’s not even arbitration eligible for another couple years, and is poised to be one of the most valuable (relatively-speaking) arms in the game over the next few years, if he could keep up anything close to the 2.85/3.47/3.84 ERA/FIP/xFIP line he put up over nearly 200 innings last year. But, the thing is, the Nationals would be crazy to deal Roark for all of those reasons, and especially because they could see guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister walk after 2015, if they aren’t dealt sooner.
So, I think we’ll probably see Zimmermann or Fister moved, and I think the Cubs would be among the interested suitors … but I’m not sure they’d actually pull the trigger. We know that the one-year thing is not a total deterrent, because the Cubs did try to acquire Ben Zobrist. But we also know that 2015, while much better than the past few years, is not likely to be the pinnacle of competitiveness for the Cubs in the coming years. If the price on someone like Zimmermann involves a player who can make a legit impact for the Cubs in the very near future – OR who could return a multiyear player in trade – then I just don’t think they would, or should, pull the trigger right now. Obviously if the price is more manageable than that (a couple quality prospects who are farther off or who have a lower ceiling, for example), and if the salary can be accommodated, then by all means, do it.
If the Cubs were going to add a one-year piece for 2015, I’d still rather see it on the offensive side. Based on the Zobrist pursuit, I suspect the Cubs agree.