For insight into where the top free-agent pitcher will sign, let’s turn to an unlikely source: the case of the top free-agent hitter six winters ago.
Max Scherzer today has two things in common with Mark Teixeira then: He is a player whose talent both the Red Sox and Yankees covet, and he is represented by Scott Boras.
There’s something else, too: Supposedly, the Yankees have minimal interest in signing him.
As I began thinking about the parallel, my recollection of Teixeira’s free agency was that the Yankees rarely were mentioned as a serious suitor until the parties agreed to an eight-year, $180 million contract just prior to Christmas in 2008.
Indeed, a search of newspaper archives for mid-December of that year revealed that the Yankees were not comfortable paying Teixeira more than $160 million … were merely "on the outskirts of the pursuit" for him … and had done all their major spending on other areas of the team.
The Red Sox and Nationals were cited in numerous reports as the favorites to land Teixeira, while the Angels — who had acquired Teixeira from the Braves that July — also made an effort to retain him. The Orioles were another popular pick, because (as many of us in the media repeated frequently that winter) Teixeira is from Maryland and had dreamed of playing in his hometown. If the Yankees were mentioned, it was for the purpose of dismissing them.
So if your question today is whether I believe the Yankees are pursuing Scherzer, the answer is an emphatic yes. The New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium could have been renamed the "We Are Not Signing Max Scherzer Bowl," and I wouldn’t have been convinced.
The American League East is eminently winnable, but not with the Yankees’ current rotation — even considering the high ceilings of right-handers Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. CC Sabathia is in decline, Ivan Nova won’t return from surgery until May and Masahiro Tanaka — despite public reassurances about his health — needed 50 pitches to record five outs the last time we saw him on a major-league mound.
Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy were the Yankees’ most consistent starters throughout the second half, and both are gone. Of the Yankees’ top seven pitchers in strikeouts this year, only Tanaka and reliever Dellin Betances remain on the roster. As luck would have it, the major-league strikeout leader over the past three seasons is available in free agency right now. His name is Max Scherzer.
Similarly, we can be sure the Red Sox are open to adding the ace they currently lack — whether via free agency or trade, with Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels the most obvious option in the latter category.
Regardless of what you’ve heard so far this offseason, and however much the teams downplay their needs to the media, the fact remains: 2014 was the first season in more than two decades during which both the Red Sox and Yankees missed the playoffs. They’re due for an old-fashioned bidding war with Boras in the middle, recalling the days of Johnny Damon and Teixeira — whom the Red Sox believed they were close to signing at one point in that winter of 2008-09.
But then the Yankees outflanked their ancient adversary, with general manager Brian Cashman telling reporters the Teixeira signing was a "deviation from our plan" because of a "rare, exceptional opportunity." For the record, Cashman was right about that: Teixeira hit a walk-off home run in the very next postseason, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series.
A half-dozen years later, it’s worth remembering what Red Sox owner John Henry told The Associated Press after Teixeira signed with his archrival: "There was no mention of the Yankees, but we felt all along that they were going to get the last call. That’s what you deal with in working with Scott."