The 2015 MLB Arms Race

The 2015 MLB Arms Race…
The Hall of Fame selection is done. It is but a memory. There are 4 new members of a very exclusive club. They will now be counted among the Titans, the Immortals, and deservedly so. But now as I look outside and see ice and snow, I find myself thinking about warmer breezes, about the beach, and about the sound of popping leather and cracking bats. Spring training is getting closer every day, and my need for it is like an itch that I cannot so easily scratch. It will get here when it gets here, goes the old adage. There is no way for me to make the calendar go any faster, so I have MLB Network and many good memories to curl up with while it is 10F outside.
Due to a recent surgery which involved replacing my left hip with parts from a rusty 1959 DeSoto, I am working from home for a few more weeks. There are no office phone ringing or meetings that I need to scurry to. The only appointments that I need to keep are the ones with my medicine cabinet. This also affords me the opportunity to ponder a great many things. Today’s ponderings actually started when Jon Lester signed on with the Chicago Cubs. I was holding out hope that he would come back to Boston, but I honestly did not believe that it would happen. I never thought that the money was the problem, but rather the years were the sticking point. I tend to agree with GMs that do not want to sign pitchers that are on the wrong side of 30 years old to long contracts. Teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox have plenty of money, and getting tagged with the Luxury Tax, while not an ideal situation, won’t stop any of these teams from letting money get in the way of signing premier players. It is the years, my friends. It is all in the years.
Let’s take a look at James Shields. On the majority of major league staffs, he is a solid number 1 or number 2 guy, no serious injury issues, eats up innings, and has great stuff. However, ‘Big Game James’ merits a closer inspection. First off, he is 33 years old going into 2015. He has had no major issues, but those odds diminish with every passing game. He holds a career mark of 114-90 and a 3.72 era. He has amassed 1,626 strikeouts against 452 walks. His post-season numbers tell a different story. In playoff baseball, he has a career record of 3-6 and a 5.46 era. It would appear that ‘Big Game James’ really isn’t. He is a solid regular-season pitcher that may get you to the playoffs without necessarily getting you through them. With that said, Shields is looking for a 5 year / $110 million deal. He would be 38 years old at the end of this contract. With precious few exceptions, how many pitchers are still at the top of their game at 38? I would not bite on this. He is asking for an average of $22M per season, and I simply do not see it. I would consider 3 years / $54M with an option for a 4th year @ $20M. Outside of that, he is an expensive pitcher who will begin to have diminishing returns. He is what might be considered in the business world to be a negative investment, and he will only depreciate in value. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Shields, and would like to have him in my rotation…but not for what he is asking.
And now it is on to Max Scherzer, who aside from Jon Lester, is the gold ring in the off-season pitching carousel this year. First, the financials… Scherzer turned down a 6 year/ $144M offer from the Tigers, and this was expected. Scherzer is a Scott Boras client and as such, you can expect that the buy-in for him will be anywhere in the range from $175M to north of $200M. Boras gets his clients paid, and I expect nothing different here. Scherzer is 30 years old this year, so there is still plenty of mileage left on the tires. Aside from a short stint on the DL in 2009, he has been healthy. Over the last two seasons, he has a record of 39-8, with 492 K’s and a combined ERA of 3.02. He has pitched over 200 innings in each of those seasons, and won the Cy Young award in 2013. And he was an All-Star in both 2013 and 2014. I could go on and on about his statistics, but I really don’t see the need. Scherzer is in his prime and at the top of his game. He is, in my opinion, outpitching Justin Verlander on the Tigers staff, and I am comfortable with lumping him in with Clayton Kershaw. If Scott Boras was to get his client a 6 year / $185M deal (which would average just over $30M per year), I think that everyone would be happy. If I am a GM or an owner, I would have to seriously consider paying the man.
This is as far as I want to go in the 2015 MLB Arms Race today. Both Shields and Scherzer merit consideration, and each brings his own unique tools to the table, even if they are coming from different places. And now, I am off to daydream about my former home just outside of Orlando, FL, wistfully wishing that I was on the beach at Cocoa or New Smyrna, or scuba diving off of West Palm Beach. If I look outside from my window here in Kansas City, I may very well get frostbite.

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