Max Scherzer pitching somewhere other than the AL Central this season, after the former Detroit ace agreed to a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals.
More on the AL Central implications of this signing in a moment, but first, let's take a look at what this move means for the Nationals, who had the best record in the National League last year and will likely enter the 2015 season as a favorite to go to the World Series.
First off, the contract isn't as outrageous as it sounds, at least in terms of annual salary. Sources indicate half of that $210 million is deferred, and that Scherzer will be making $15 million a year for each of the next 14 years.
There had been previous speculation that Washington would have to trade either pitcher Jordan Zimmermann or shortstop Ian Desmond in order to add Scherzer and still make its bottom line work. If Scherzer was making $30 million annually, that probably would be the case. But since he's making "just" $15 million a year, maybe the Nationals will be able to hold on to other key players and make an "all-in" push this season.
Zimmermann will be a free agent after the season, and it's unlikely the Nationals will be able to retain him when he hits the open market. But if I'm Washington, I'm not concerned with that right now. I've got Scherzer, Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg at the top of my rotation. I've got Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark as options for the final two spots in my rotation. What other team in the National League can match that kind of depth in starting pitching?
I don't see another team in the NL that strong 1 to 6. The Nationals should forget about Zimmermann's impending free agency, keep him and go for it this year. That acquisition of Scherzer is a "go for it now" move. You have to believe that's their mindset.
As for Detroit, this is a big loss for the Tigers, no matter what public spin they try to put on it. Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA last year, after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and winning the Cy Young award in 2013. Scherzer has more wins (39) and more strikeouts (492) than any other pitcher in the majors over the past two years. Even if Detroit goes out and signs James Shields to fill Scherzer's rotation spot, that's hard production to replace.
Here is how Detroit's rotation looked at the end of last season: Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello.
Here is Detroit's projected rotation for 2015 today: Price, Verlander, Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene.
Will that rotation be good enough for the Tigers to win the Central again this year? Maybe. That top three is still formidable, but don't you think that first list with Scherzer and Porcello is more impressive than this second list with Simon and Greene? I certainly do.
Scherzer's departure provides hope to all other teams in the AL Central, including the White Sox. In his career, Scherzer is 12-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 23 starts against Chicago. He's tough on everybody, but he's been better against the Sox than he's been against the league overall.
As a Sox fan, I'll take my chances against Simon and Greene. I'd also take my chances against Shields over Scherzer, if the Tigers do indeed decide they need to make another big acquisition for their rotation.