The Max Scherzer situation will likely gain some clarity after today.
The New York Yankees, according to multiple reports, have reached a four-year contract agreement with Chase Headley worth about $52 million.
That means one of the deepest-pocketed teams with a starting pitching need and a reputation for lavishing huge deals on free agents is now free to turn its focus toward Scherzer -- if it chooses to do so.
Some corners of the media have said that the Yankees couldn't afford Headley AND a top pitcher, pegging the third baseman as their priority.
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Seeing the Yankees exercise financial restraint isn't something baseball fans are used to. But even before the Headly contract is factored in, New York is on the hook for $180.2 million in payroll for 2015 and $178.8 million for 2016. If Headley's contract is divided up into equal amounts of $13 million a year, New York will be well over the $189 million luxury tax threshold -- a figure they've said they want to be below -- each of the next two years.
Long story short, we should now learn if the Yankees were bluffing when they said they aren't interested in Scherzer. And their participation in the bidding for the former Detroit Tigers ace seems key to stoking the market agent Scott Boras is trying to develop.
Where some other big spenders fit in:
The Los Angeles Dodgers had a payroll of nearly $230 million last season and seemed to be tapped out as they hired a new front office crew with marching orders to bring the payroll back into the stratosphere. They're on the hook for $212 million in guaranteed contracts for next year. If they paid Scherzer the asking price of $25 million a season, the Dodgers would see their payroll head in the wrong direction, up. The wild card in LA's financial picture is that the Dodgers MIGHT see Zack Grienke opt out of his contract after 2015. But they can't be sure of that. If he gets hurt -- or if he just decides he likes to live and pitch in LA, he could leave the team seriously over-invested in pitching should it make a play for Scherzer.
San Francisco was said to be interested in Jon Lester. But the club never made a serious offer to compete with what the Cubs had on the table. It seems they're unlikely to go beyond those numbers for Scherzer. Why would they offer $135 for a player that they didn't really want knowing that, if Lester took the cash, they be stuck with their second choice? San Francisco had a payroll of $150 million in 2014 and is already committed to contracts totaling $129 million for next year. Scherzer would put them over their budget from the previous year without factoring in filling other needs or paying players who are eligible for raises through arbitration.
While the Giants are a large market team and their privately financed stadium is near being paid off, they don't have a history of being big spenders in free agency. And it doesn't do them any favors that one of their most popular players, Pablo Sandoval, walked to the Boston Red Sox instead of taking a similar deal to play in San Francisco.
The Red Sox seem to be in the same boat as the Giants. They wouldn't go over $135 million for Lester for whom they wouldn't have to give up a draft pick. Why would they go much higher for Scherzer? Boston seems more interested in cheaper alternative James Shields or a trade for Philadelphia Phillies hurler Cole Hamels.
Scherzer's home town team, the St. Louis Cardinals, have a payroll of $110 million and have Jaime Garcia's disastrous contract coming off the books after 2015. The club could easily afford to spend $125-$130 million with its steady flow of well over 3 million fans. So the St. Louis native could be fit in the budget if it was so desired. But, so far, the Cardinals have refused to be part of a bidding war.
That leaves the Detroit Tigers who offered Scherzer $144 million in the spring as an extension. Ownership was reportedly miffed about being rejected and has pledged to hold firm on its offer.
The team with the most room in its budget is the Chicago Cubs who have already signed Lester to a $156-million contract. They're only on the hook for $56.5 million next year before Lester is figured in. If Lester's contract is divided into equal installments of $25.8 million, that puts the Wee Bears in the $82 million range. Terms of the deal haven't been specified to this point. But it has been reported that the contract includes a $30 million signing bonus of which half is to be paid in 2015. That would put the Cubs' 2015 financial commitment at $26 million for Lester if the other annual payments are equal.
In 2010 the team had a payroll of $144 million, although in its recent rebuilding period the Cubs seemed more comfortable around $110 million.
It seems that the Cubs would prefer to land a slugging outfielder as their next priority and it could be difficult to fit both Scherzer and that mystery outfielder. But what if that outfielder isn't there to be had? Would it be wise for Chicago to go all in on pitching or would it be better to hold out for the offense the team lacks?
Only time will tell. But I still don't see Scherzer getting the $200 million he supposedly wants if the Yankees refuse to get involved.