The Washington Nationals want to add an elite starting pitcher in a trade, according to major league sources. Rays left-hander David Price is an obvious possibility. But Tigers righty Max Scherzer would be an even better fit.
Think about it:
• Scherzer and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo have a history — Scherzer was Rizzo’s last first-round pick as Diamondbacks scouting director, going No. 11 in 2006.
• The Nationals are deep in young power arms and veteran late-inning relievers, both of which surely are on Tigers GM David Dombrowski’s wish list.
• The price in prospects for Scherzer, a free agent at the end of next season, would be lower than it is for Price, who is under club control for two more years.
• And, finally, the Nats maintain a strong relationship with Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, and might stand a better chance of signing the pitcher long term than most clubs.
Does all this add up to a trade? At the moment, there is no way to know. For one thing, the Tigers’ plans for Scherzer are not clear. At the very least, sources say, they are in the “listening, not shopping” mode. Translation: “Willing to move, for the right return.”
Trading Scherzer would give the Tigers payroll relief. Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com predicts that Scherzer will earn $13.6 million in his final year of arbitration.
Such a move also would open a spot in the rotation for left-hander Drew Smyly and enable the team to focus on an extension for third baseman Miguel Cabrera, whose current deal expires after the 2015 season.
Some rival executives, though, are baffled that the Tigers would even consider trading Scherzer, who is favored to win the American League Cy Young Award. A rotation of Scherzer and fellow right-handers Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister could help the Tigers dominate the American League Central next season.
The Nationals’ rotation, meanwhile, is fronted by right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and left-hander Gio Gonzalez — and Strasburg is coming off surgery to remove bone chips from his surgically repaired right elbow.
Imagine what Scherzer would add that group.
Phillies seeking creative solutions
It’s no secret that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is under pressure after firing manager Charlie Manuel and presiding over an 89-loss season. Amaro is encouraging his staff to seek creative, innovative solutions, and the Phillies have gone so far as to kick around a trade for Price, according to major league sources.
One, clubs discuss anything and everything at this time of year. And two, the Phils probably cannot acquire Price unless they part with their top pitching prospect, left-hander Jesse Biddle. Outfielder Domonic Brown also could be part of a package, and even then the Phils likely would be outbid by teams with better young players to offer.
If anything, sources say, Amaro seems to grasp that he cannot simply make a singular splash, not when the team needs to address its catching, pitching and outfield. Thus, he’s unlikely to go all-in on a trade for Price or give a massive payout to a free-agent outfielder such as Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. A more measured approach finally is appropriate.
So, while it’s fun to think about a Phillies rotation with three star left-handers — Price, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels — the chances of a deal for Amaro getting Price probably are quite slim. Amaro needs to spread his money around, seek opportunistic trades — and hit clean singles instead of instead of trying for his usual home runs.
The Lincecum effect
The Pirates say they want to re-sign free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett even though they did not make him a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer.
Burnett, 36, is coming off a $16.5 million salary, and the Giants just awarded right-hander Tim Lincecum an average of $17.5 million over two years to keep him off the open market.
What does that make A.J. worth?
Over the past two seasons, Burnett has been demonstrably better than Lincecum by virtually every measure — ERA, opponents’ OPS, strikeout-to-walk ratio, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), you name it.
The Pirates did not want to pay Burnett $14.1 million, so they sure as heck are not going to want to pay him more than $17.5 million. But if you’re Burnett, and you’ve talked about either playing for the Pirates or retiring, how much below your market value would you take to remain in Pittsburgh? Probably not as much as the Pirates would want.
Burnett ultimately could decide to explore free agency and seek big money on a one- or two-year deal. Teams might argue that Lincecum was an outlier, and that the Giants were nuts. Starting pitchers and their agents, however, will contend just the opposite — that the Lincecum contract was merely the outgrowth of supply-and-demand economics.
For sale: a Rangers middle infielder
The Rangers again are pondering whether to trade second baseman Ian Kinsler or shortstop Elvis Andrus to clear a middle-infield position for Jurickson Profar, according to major league sources. A move of Kinsler to first base also is possible but probably less appealing.
Kinsler seemingly would be easier to trade; he is owed $57 million over the next four seasons, plus a $10 million club option or $5 million buyout in 2018. Andrus, on the other hand, is guaranteed $126,475,000 over the next nine years, with a $15 million club option for — egads! — 2023.
The size of Andrus’ contract seemingly would preclude a deal, even to a high-revenue team such as the Red Sox, who might look to add a shortstop. Selling off Kinsler to a loser of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, maybe even the Yankees, would appear more realistic.
In any case, the Rangers need to figure it out. Signing free-agent catcher Brian McCann would bring needed left-handed balance to their lineup. Adding another starting pitcher — Price? Masahiro Tanaka? — also would make sense. But figuring out the middle infield — and securing payroll relief — might be the key to the Rangers’ offseason.
And finally . . .
Ellsbury is the Boston free agent who most frequently is linked with the Mariners, but don’t be surprised if the M’s take another run at first baseman Mike Napoli, whom they pursued as a free agent last offseason.
The Mariners consider right-handed power to be their biggest need, and Napoli appeared in 139 games — the second-highest total of his career — after being diagnosed with avascular necrosis in both of his hips last winter.