Cincinnati – Thirty-seven year old pitchers are generally not a wise investment. They don’t often rank as one of the most attractive free agents available on the market.
But Max Scherzer’s performance this season—one that may have made him only the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win four (or more) Cy Young Awards—has not been ordinary. In an era when every acquisition, free agent or otherwise, is measured analytically microscopically for whatever minor benefit or potential handicap it may bring, Scherzer must break the model in the front offices around baseball.
“Good,” Scherzer told him, sitting in the visitor’s dugout at Great American Ball Park after reducing his major league-leading ERA to 2.08 a day — a ridiculous 0.78 in nine starts as Dodger.
“Coming to the park and winning is No. 1. That’s always been my motivation. It’s never been there to prove anyone wrong. But, yeah, I mean — I’m a human. You want to beat your guesses.” each year.
“I think I’ve done a great job over the years to show that some computers I can be better than I think. I know why we have computers. They’re great. Over the long haul, They make sound decisions from a macro point of view. But when you really try to describe a player? I hope I’m better than my guesses. I hope there are more things I do that amount to Can’t be determined, which allows me to go out there and achieve success.”
If there’s any comp for Scherzer at this point in his career, it could be his former Detroit teammate Justin Verlander. Shortly after his 36th birthday in spring 2019, Verlander led free agency, signing a two-year, $66 million contract extension with the Houston Astros.
He was well worth the investment that season, joining Scherzer as one of seven pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues. But Verlander bowled just six innings last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery, which will sideline him until 2022 (when he turns 39).
“Free agency is all that takes care of itself,” Scherzer said, dismissing the topic as premature for discussion. “As long as you go out there and play to win, everything else takes care of itself. It guides you in the right direction and to the right team. So for me I just want to come to the park and win. That’s all. NS.”
The idea that his three months with the Dodgers could serve as a ‘test drive’ for a potentially longer commitment was not one Scherzer gave much weight. On the Dodgers’ side, however, Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, called it “added value” in getting the player to lead free agency.
“We have made large trades for people at the expiration of contracts and part of the added value of making those trades is whether you know the player better and they get to know us better with the idea that if we are aggressive. want to be and continue the relationship so hopefully they’ve really enjoyed their time together and want to be a part of it,” Friedman said.
The most obvious example of the Dodgers getting a high-profile free agent-to-be mid-season was a 2018 trade for Manny Machado. With shortstop Corey Seeger returning from injury for the 2019 season, the Dodgers were not aggressive in trying to re-sign Machado, who instead went to the San Diego Padres, signing a 10-year, $300 million contract.
Scherzer (who is represented by Scott Boras) has done nothing more than make himself an even more desirable commodity since joining the Dodgers. But there are a number of factors that will make this winter complicated for Scherzer and Dodgers — one of which is the collective bargaining agreement expiring.
“There are too many variables in the game to try and narrow down anything,” said Scherzer, who is associated with the MLB players’ union as a member of the player leadership. “So many scenarios can come up. It’s your brain trying to figure out which one is about to happen. ”
Friedman echoes that sentiment.
“There are just too many unknowns,” he said. “All I know is that things will be different. In what respect, we don’t know at this point.”
It’s also unknown how much the Dodgers will pay Trevor Bauer next season — if anything. Amid allegations of sexual assault, Bauer has been on administrative leave for the final three months of the 2021 season, all but $38 million received in the first year of a three-year, $102 million contract by the Dodgers. If he is suspended for all or part of the 2022 season, the Dodgers’ commitment to him (he’s set to make $32 million next season) could diminish. Or they could have released him, swallowing up the remaining $64 million on his contract.
“We are in the same place of waiting for MLB,” all of Friedman would say of Bauer’s situation. “Once something is decided, we’ll be in a position to talk more on it.”
Scherzer isn’t the only multiple Cy Young champ headed to free agency this winter. Clayton Kershaw also unsigned beyond this season and recently said “I can honestly say I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“We’ve talked a lot about Kersh and how much he means to this organization,” Friedman said. “I think right now all our focus is on doing whatever we can to win the championship in 2021. After our last game is played, we will shift gears in the off-season. But we have no shame in that. Not that Kersh means much to this organization and hopefully will continue to be.
What would it look like on the spreadsheet? How wise would it be to invest millions and millions of dollars in two pitchers who will turn 38 and 34 during the 2021 season?
“I look forward to working through this in the off-season,” Friedman said.
Dodgers (LHP Julio Ureas, 18-3, 2.99 ERA) at Rockies (RHP Antonio Sanztella, 4-9, 4.06 ERA), Tuesday, 5:40 p.m., Sportsnet LA, 570 AM