By: Kurt Snyder
In other boring spring training news, Brad Ausmus announced David Price would start on Opening Day for the Tigers. I’m sure the news didn’t shock anyone.
With the changes the Tigers have made in their starting rotation, there really was no other choice. David Price is the cream of the crop when it comes to Tiger starters. So the announcement was, for me, a foregone conclusion. It was yet another reason to proclaim, “Wake me on April 6th.”
But hold on for just a second. Verlander pitched seven straight openers for the Tigers, seven straight. But why didn’t the streak end last season?
After all, Max Scherzer had just finished the most dominant season of his career, winning the Cy Young Award in 2013. And yet it was proclaimed, and argued by no one, that Verlander would still pitch the opener because he had seniority and could still lay claim to being the ace of the staff.
Well sorry, but when one of your starters is the reigning Cy Young, to me they lay claim to being the ace. Seniority means nothing, not in my eyes. And this comes from one of Justin’s supreme supporters. I agreed with the decision and nodded in agreement, thinking, “Max, great season, but this is still Justin Verlander we are talking about.”
But doesn’t it make you wonder just a bit about what really happened in spring training last season?
Scherzer came off a brilliant year, winning 21 games and losing only 3. He finished second in the Major Leagues in strikeouts, and was in reality, the ace of the best starting rotation in all of baseball. Verlander, 2 years removed from his own Cy Young, was a disappointing 13-12 and led all Tiger starters in losses. So, Max was not only our best, but the American League’s best starting pitcher.
So let’s all step back from the word “seniority” for a moment. Wasn’t the decision to pitch Verlander instead of Scherzer more about Max than Verlander and his so-called seniority? Could this decision have been more about what Max didn’t do instead of what he did?
Because what he did do was win the Cy Young and what he didn’t do was accept a $144 million contract offered by the Tigers in the spring of 2014.
I can honestly say this never crossed my mind last year, mainly because Ausmus, had his favorites. Brad seemed to love Don Kelly and I believe he had a pretty special place in his heart for Justin Verlander and all that he had accomplished from the very first day Justin came to Detroit from spring training in 2006.
Sure none of what Verlander had accomplished could have been ignored. The no hitters, the Cy Young and MVP awards, are career highlights which place him among the best starting pitchers to ever wear a Tiger uniform. So, you certainly couldn’t just push him aside and treat all his accomplishments as old news. If anything, it all supports and helps you understand “seniority.”
But knowing what we know about Mike Illitch and what has been discussed since Scherzer left the Tigers for the Nationals, there may have been more to that Opening Day decision than we think. It may be that Mike Illitch may have influenced the decision to start Verlander over the Cy Young award winner.
We are never going to know. But we were told time and again that the Tigers never made another play for Scherzer after he turned down their contract offer. Would it surprise anyone if we were to find out that it was Illitch who made the call to start Verlander last year?
Sure, this suggestion could be nonsense and it may simply have been the way Brad wanted to line up the rotation. Maybe Scherzer’s decision had no bearing on anything related to Opening Day.
But the whole Price over Verlander decision today made me wonder. Verlander said he wanted to earn the right to start Opening Day, not have it handed to him. But what happened to the seniority? Does seniority have an expiration date?
Darryl Rogers, one time coach for the Lions back in the 1980’s; another in a long line of unsuccessful Lion football coaches, once said, “What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?”
So, last spring, Max Scherzer, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, may have wondered in the back of his mind: What does a guy have to do around here to pitch on Opening Day?
Well, there may have been about 144 million reasons why he didn’t.