By: Holly Horning
As fans, we tend to focus on what could have been when it comes to seeing how former Tigers have fared once traded. We lament over losing such greats as John Smoltz and now Andrew Miller, ignoring the essential information that their new teams completely deconstructed and rebuilt their pitching deliveries which was responsible for making them successful.
But we rarely celebrate the deals the Tigers fortunately escaped. Deals that would become additional albatrosses around the neck of Detroit for their length and cost.
The playoffs this year have presented a more visible reminder of the risks associated with signing high-priced pitchers to long-term deals. Pitchers who are inked with the expectations that they will guide their teams to playoff spots and then help their team play deep into the playoffs if not the World Series. General Managers who risk large chunks of payroll and long-term flexibility to roll the dice on a single guy who only pitches every five days and still deemed to be the savior.
And this is where we, as fans, should be grateful about what the Tigers have managed to avoid. The playoffs this year have highlighted how 3 former Tigers starting pitchers have continued to fail when it means the most.
Rick Porcello, now with Boston, was signed to an extension going through 2019 for $83 million dollars. His record, through the latest year of playoffs now stands at 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA. The Tigers landed 3 players for him including Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson.
David Price was added to Boston’s rotation and is currently the second most highly-paid starting pitcher after Clayton Kershaw. At a salary of $217 million and a contract that goes through 2020, he is 2-8 in playoffs with a 5.44 ERA.
Several scouts are on the record saying that Price starting losing his talent a year ago. They point to his speed going down as well as his inability to move the ball around. They said that his vertical movement – meaning moving the ball up and down in the strike zone – is no longer there. The Tigers got 3 players for him, including Norris and Boyd.
The Red Sox now have tied up approximately $300 million in 2 starters with abysmal post-season records. Highly unlikely they are going to be able to trade them, especially Price, with those salaries. This doesn’t bode well for future Octobers in Boston.
And lastly, there’s Max Scherzer. Third highest pitching contract at $210 million with a contract that runs through 2021 but the Nationals will be paying him through 2028 when he’s in his 40’s and long-since retired. Max is 4-4 with a 3.74 ERA in the post-season with his last win coming with the Tigers in 2013.
Here in DC, much talk has revolved around Scherzer who is said to have had his fastball flatten out and is one of MLB’s leaders in giving up HRs. Max has been with the team for 2 years now and fans are already questioning the signing and how his future will play out.
What these three have in common is their expensive contracts and not having helped their teams win a single playoff game this year. It appears to be a double-edged sword in signing these guys who can help get their teams to the post-season but then can’t deliver when it’s really needed.
But to be balanced, there were a couple of occasions where at least Max pitched well, but not well enough. We all know the mantra that good pitching wins, but if you don’t have the bats to go with it, all is for naught. Something we hope the Tigers learned after 2 World Series in which they won exactly one game.
Could it be that the Tigers actually made the best choice in which pitcher to keep? Justin Verlander. He’s the only one of the four with a winning post-season record. 7 – 5. He’s got 3 years at $84 million left on his contract with a possible incentive year based solely upon performance.
From this past year, we’ve seen JV evolve from being a thrower into a pitcher but still with some blazing speed when warranted. Many thought it was one of the worst contracts ever signed. While it is nothing to sneeze at, it appears that JV, so late in the game, has performed better – and aged better – than at least Max and Price. And he once again, returned to ace status in 2016.
And this is where the intangibles also come into play. Never discount them when analyzing talent. JV has shown that he is total bulldog and that the competitive spirits still burns brighter than most. And this could be a very good thing in 2017 when 3 youngsters hopefully join him full-time in the rotation.