Expect Tigers to re-sign Cy Young winner Scherzer, MVP Cabrera
DETROIT– The Detroit Tigers have a wealth of talent, but can they make the talent wealthy enough to keep it?
Max Scherzer can become a free agent after this season, and Miguel Cabrera can do likewise after 2015.
It will cost $20-something million a year to keep Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner. It will take around $30 million per year to sign Cabrera, the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP.
Both likely will get deals of six to eight years.
I believe both will re-sign with the Tigers and could do so by April 1. Here are three reasons why:
• They very much want to remain with the Tigers. When discussing the future, they don’t couch their interest in any way other than to say free agency is a possibility. But Scherzer said, "Detroit is where I want to play." Cabrera told ESPN Deportes that Detroit "is the city where I want to end my career."
• Tigers owner Mike Ilitch isn’t going to let them get away, and both players have such respect for the owner that Detroit could end up getting a chance to match any offer that would come in free agency.
• Teams that draw three million fans and are annual World Series contenders foster a great culture for player retention. Those clubs can afford to pay big money, and the players know they will get the only thing that rivals the money: a chance to win it all each and every year.
So what’s it going to take to sign these two? It’s a matter of market value.
The top contracts in baseball belong to Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $275 million), Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) and Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million). Paying no attention to the regret in New York and Los Angeles over A-Rod’s and Pujols’ staggering contracts, the Seattle Mariners made the mistake of paying Cano, 31, so much.
Regardless, a precedent has been set for all future whopper contracts.
Cabrera, 30, is better than any of those three. He’s coming off his only injury-plagued year, but still played in 148 games and batted .348 with 44 homers and 137 RBI.
If he would land a 10-year contract extension right now, he’d be 41 before it was completed. It’s doubtful that he’ll be worth big money in the final few years, but that’s the price teams have to pay to get the big years ahead.
Miggy has 365 homers and 1,260 RBI after 10½ seasons. He could challenge the major league records of 755 homers (Barry Bonds) and 2,297 RBI (Hank Aaron) if he stays healthy. Bonds and Aaron played until they were 42.
Still, I believe the Tigers can get Cabrera for eight years guaranteed and two years that become vested if, say, he totals at least 200 RBI in the seventh and eighth years of the contract. I’d offer Cabrera eight years at $240 million guaranteed and two more years at $50 million if he gets those 200 RBI.
These are unheard of contract numbers, but get ready for that.
With his new deal, Clayton Kershaw — the highest-paid pitcher, at seven years for $215 million — surpassed the $30 million mark per season. He landed his big payday after winning the NL Cy Young Award in two of the last three seasons. …
Which brings us to Scherzer’s future contract. He could approach Kershaw’s deal by winning another Cy Young Award this season.
If Scherzer, 29, has a merely good season, his free-agent value would drop considerably. So there are risks involved for both parties in getting a long-term deal done by the March 31 season opener, which is Scherzer’s desire.
He doesn’t yet deserve a contract like the second- and third-highest for pitchers, signed by teammate Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million) and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million). But Scherzer’s not far off.
Offering Scherzer the $155 million over seven years that the Yankees gave Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka would be close to fair-dollar value.
Bump Scherzer up to $160 million for seven, and it’s going to take the Tigers about $400 million over the next seven to eight years to keep him and Cabrera.
Like it or not, somebody’s going to pay it. Would you rather see them get that kind of money from the Yankees?
Detroit’s $149 team payroll was fifth-highest in 2013. The Yankees were first at $229 million.
There’s more to the equation than three high-priced players. Pitcher Anibal Sanchez ($15.8 million) and second baseman Ian Kinsler ($16 million) are signed long term, while right fielder Torii Hunter ($14 million) and designated hitter Victor Martinez ($12 million) are signed through the upcoming season.
Those four — along with Cabrera, Scherzer and Verlander — will cost $115.3 million in 2014. That’s more than the total payrolls of 19 teams in 2013.
Verlander is here for the long haul, through 2020, but will Cabrera and Scherzer join him in the club’s "Big Three" contracts beyond this season?
Last year, the Tigers paid Cabrera, Verlander and Prince Fielder a combined $64 million.
This year, they’ll pay Cabrera, Verlander and Scherzer a total of $57.5 million.
Next year, when Verlander spikes from $20 to $28 million, it could take about $80 million to sign that same trio with extensions.
That’s the price of greatness , though, and I believe Ilitch is willing to pay it.