How Would Signing Max Scherzer Affect the Astros “Process”

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At the time of writing, 800 plus people are gathered at Craig Biggio‘s Hall of Fame Celebration at Union Station. Since the signing of Jed Lowrie, the Astros off-season activty has come to a halt. However, an ace pitcher seems to just be hanging out without any offers. So could the Astros shock the world and sign one of the most coveted pitchers available? Could another “highly attended” press event be on the horizon for the Astros?

Max Scherzer turned down a 6 year $144 million dollar contract extension with the Detroit Tigers, gambling that he could make more money in the open market. Sports Illustrated came out with a Cover titled “Max’s $144 Million Dollar Gamble.” At the beginning of the off-season, most people believed that Scott Boras and Max Scherzer are looking for $200 million dollar contract.

Now on January 9, 2015, Scherzer remains unsigned. Tigers officials are telling reporters that they need Scherzer to re-sign, but yet he is still a free agent. Could the Astros make a statement that they are ready to win now by signing Scherzer to be their ace? Would Scherzer even consider signing with the Astros?

What Would it Take to Sign Scherzer?

Max Scherzer and Scott Boras probably want a contract that pays between the second and first highest paid pitchers Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw. Lester signed with the Cubs for about $25.83 million a year, and the Dodgers re-signed Kershaw for about $30.7 million a year. Jay Jaffe wrote that Scherzer may not be worth the money he’s seeking. With signing a 7 year deal with a team, he might have a decline in his later years with WAR.

Jaffe uses WAR to project that his actual value will be closer to a seven-year $152 million dollar deal. But if Scherzer is looking to earn between Kershaw and Lester per year value, he is looking for total 7-year deal valuing between $180.81 million and $214.9 million. Kershaw is not on the same planet as Scherzer is as a pitcher, so Scherzer’s value should be closer to Lester’s deal.

Just for the sake of discussion in this article, lets say that the Tigers offer him a 7-year $175 deal, which is 1 more year and $1 million more ($25 million versus $24 million) per year than the offer he turned down. If anything has been learned by the Astros this off-season, they will have to pay more for free agents until they start winning again. The Astros would probably have to up the annual salary and add a possible 8th year vesting option if he reaches certain milestones.

My Guess: 7-year $186 million deal ($26.57 per year) with a possible 8th-year vesting option.

How Would Singing Affect the Process?

Buster Olney of ESPN listed each teams chances of landing Max Scherzer, here is his quote concerning the Astros chances.

“Rival officials believe the Astros have the money to spend on a big-ticket item such as Scherzer, but they’d probably have to pay beyond the market price to lure Scherzer to a team that has had a lot of failure in recent years, similar to what the Rangers did to get Alex Rodriguez. Also, the timing seems off, considering the Astros are more than one pitcher away from contending for the AL West title.”

“Rival officials believe the Astros have the money to spend on a big-ticket item such as Scherzer, but they’d probably have to pay beyond the market price to lure Scherzer”-Buster Olney

The Astros are 1 of 30 teams in baseball who feel like they have a chance to be a winner in 2015. I wrote earlier about the Astros finishing 81-81 this year, and then getting back to possible contender status in 2016. So if the Astros feel like they are ready to that next step forward, adding a proven ace will help them speed up their ascension to become playoff contenders again.

The 2015 Astros payroll currently sits at about $64 million dollars, with Jim Crane saying that the payroll could be $70 million. He did say for the right player, he would expand the payroll. So if Crane tells Jeff Luhnow to go out and sign that Max guy, would he feel comfortable writing the extra $26-million dollar check for the next 7-8 years?

Doing the math, that would put the Astros payroll at $90 million, $20 million more than Crane might have wanted. Plus with such a low payroll, 29% of the total salary would be on one player. They could offer a back-loaded contract to help with expenses now, but if Scherzer signs with the Astros I think Luhnow tries to unload Scott Feldman, Dexter Fowler, and my son’s favorite, Jason Castro.

Of the three I see Feldman being the most likely to stick around, even though he has the more expensive contract because he could be a great 4th or 5th pitcher. Trading Fowler ($9 million) and Castro ($3.9 million) would probably save an estimated $12.9 million, taking overall salary to $77.1 million. The Astros would have to rely on unproven talent to cover catcher (Max Stassi) and center field (Jake Marisnick or Robbie Grossman or other prospects).

Astros Rotation would be…

Max Scherzer

Dallas Keuchel

Collin McHugh

Scott Feldman

Brett Oberholtzer or Michael Foltynewicz

Scherzer’s Contract Could Cause Future Problems

Fixing 2015 payroll is manageable, but keep in mind what’s going to happen when Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Chris Carter, Jose Altuve, and George Springer are due for their paydays. Jon Singleton is signed for the next 4 years for about $2 million per year. The Astros will probably also try to extend the contracts of Carlos Correa and Mark Appel prior to their respective debuts. Future Astros transactions may be handcuffed by Scherzer’s contract.

What I’m trying to say is that they have these great players who they might not be able to afford to pay and they may go elsewhere. In order to keep the Astros core together will cost some money. So is it better to trade prospects away for a Cole Hamels, or sign a player like Max Scherzer? The Astros have shown recently that they are willing to trade minor league surplus as well as a willingness to spend money. By not trading all their eggs in a basket for Hamels, the “Process” will still bear fruits soon.

Like most people, I still think Scherzer to Houston is possible, but highly unlikely. He probably re-signs with the Tigers. Scherzer is stalling the pitching free agent push with James Shields waiting in the wings to be picked up from a Scherzer loser. Anthony Castrovince wrote yesterday about the chances that Scherzer lands in Houston. He too thinks it’s possible, but would come as a major shock to the baseball community.

Until we hear from the big boys of baseball reporters saying that the Astros are involved or possibly mentioned as a “mystery team,” Astros fans probably should not get their hopes up. But for the dreamers out there, there is a chance, no matter how small of one.

It would be a drastic statement to other teams and 2016 free agents that the Astros are ready to win now, and not Lose Now. What are your thoughts?

Next: Biggio a Hall of Famer

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