The Nonsense Scherzer Trade Rumors Debunked

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

On Thursday, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler wrote a column with a provocative headline. It read: “Tigers may trade Scherzer this winter before cost skyrockets.” A couple of quick points should be made up front. This story is 100% speculation on Knobler’s part. There are no quotes from Tigers or league officials. There aren’t even anonymous “sources” or “reports,” which you know we hate at New English D. Second, Knobler isn’t someone who normally writes stuff like this, so I don’t mean this to be a critique of Danny’s work in general. But this was a joke.

His argument goes something like this. Scherzer is about to get a huge arbitration payday. Scherzer isn’t going to sign an extension because he’s a Boras client. The Tigers have a ton of money tied up in other stars and can’t keep spending. All of those things are facts, but Knobler ties them together to create a narrative that will generate traffic but doesn’t make any logical sense.

Let’s think about this logically. The Tigers will either win the World Series or they won’t this year. If they win the Series, are the Tigers really going to trade the centerpiece of the pitching staff that led them there to save $15 million? If they don’t win, are they going to trade a player who is likely going to provide 5 wins above replacement or so in 2014 while their roster remains intact to make another run? That doesn’t sound like the Tigers. They will either not care about the money because they value loyalty or they will still feel the pressure of winning and will have to keep Scherzer because you won’t find someone better on the market at any position.

But let’s leave that alone. Let’s assume the Tigers will act without making any sort of emotional calculation. There is no rational case to be made for trading Scherzer.

The only reasonable case would have to be crafted around his cost and a Tigers team that is cash strapped. But there is nothing to suggest that the Tigers are hurting for money. They drew 3 million fans and can count on the postseason revenue bump, not to mention incoming TV revenue from the league’s new deal. Maybe Knobler knows something about the Illitch family bank account, but that seems like a relevant detail to include in your speculation. Scherzer will cost $15 million or so next season, but that’s a bargain if he’s a 5-6 win pitcher. That’s better than you could do signing someone to replace him.

If we assume the trade would push Smyly to the rotation the drop off from Max to Smyly would likely be about 4 wins, plus the cost of replacing Smyly as the relief ace. The Tigers need to replace Scherzer’s 5 wins if they trade him and intend to contend in 2014. I can’t see anywhere on the club they could add five wins short of signing Robinson Cano, and even that is a stretch before you factor in the giant financial commitment.  The Tigers could not trade Scherzer and get better for next season without totally overhauling their roster. There is nowhere to find the extra playing time.

So this would have to be about the future. The Tigers would trade Scherzer for a set of prospects and save $15 million. In this scenario, they add the future wins from the prospects but lose Scherzer’s value. In order for that to make sense, the Tigers would need to get enough of a prospect haul to account for the roughly $10 miilion of surplus value Scherzer will be worth in 2014. They need to get something like 3 wins back in the deal.

That’s before you factor in the time value of money (discount factor) and before you factor in the value of the draft pick the Tigers would get when Scherzer rejects the qualifying offer after 2014. Essentially for this to work, some team needs to send the Tigers a stud prospect or a couple of really solid ones and you have to assume the Tigers don’t mind being worse in 2014 as a result.

That just doesn’t make any sense. For trading Scherzer to make sense the Tigers have to intentionally hurt their 2014 chances – as their window narrows – so that they can get a player who will be slightly better than the draft pick they will get as compensation, all so they can save $15 million. This is a team whose owner ponied up for Fielder and Sanchez because he wants to win a title before he dies.

It doesn’t make sense unless you can get a team to dramatically overpay. I guess we shouldn’t put that past Dombrowski, but after the meltdown trade the Royals made this year, most teams should be weary of making a short term gamble on a starter. Max Scherzer is a 5-6 win pitcher at the end of his peak who will be on a bargain-priced one year deal. For some reason, Knobler is suggesting the Tigers will trade him.

To make themselves worse short term. To make themselves marginally better in the long term. To save money they don’t need to save. Without even considering the Tigers overly loyal disposition. Before you factor in the how much the front office adores Scherzer, it still doesn’t make sense.

Knobler wrote this piece without any actual inside info. I know he’s a smart guy, so he should have easily been able to arrive at the same conclusion I did. Why did he write what he wrote? It’s a sexy headline. Everyone shared it and talked about it. CBS got page views and page views are currency. He put out nonsense speculation. The best way for you to respond to this kind of thing is not to read it. Don’t feed the trade-rumor industrial complex and don’t let Danny get away with work that is beneath him.

I think trade speculation is the scorn of the sports world, but it’s even worse when you’re speculating during an exciting playoff series. If you’re bored in November, knock yourself out, but the season is still happening. There is actual baseball to cover. There are more compelling stories to write about Max Scherzer. You know, Max Scherzer? The Tigers star who is likely going to win the Cy Young after making significant improvements in his delivery a year after he dealt with a massive personal tragedy.

But yeah, let’s write about a trade that is never going to happen.

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