Clayton Kershaw won the annual pitcher’s sweepstakes this offseason signing a record contract that will net him over $30 million per season. While all of the noisy MLB media focus was on the mind-boggling numbers awarded to the two-time Cy Young Award winner, two other potential $200 million arms quietly signed one-year deals, setting the stage for big paydays in 2015.
Black Ace David Price avoided arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second straight season, signing a one-year $14 million deal. Price inked a one-year deal worth $10 million last January following his 2012 Cy Young season. In fact, the short-armed Rays awarded the 20-game winner the largest one-year salary in franchise history.
The Tigers signed right-hander and reigning AL Cy Young beast Max Scherzer to a one-year, $15.5 million contract for 2014. Scherzer is in his third season of arbitration eligibility and is set for free agency after the upcoming season.
Scherzer is a Scott Boras client who made $6.75 million last season and went H.A.M in 2013 going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA with 240 K’s in 214 1/3 innings. For his career, the late-blooming 29-year-old boasts a 116 ERA+ over his six MLB season.
Big pay days are on the free agent horizon, but it’s unlikely both men will sign mega-contracts with their current squads.
Scherzer is more likely to stay put and is eligible for free agency after the season. He will be looking to make a killing and the Tigers will be looking to tie him up before he tastes the free agent market. According to sbnation.com a safe estimate would put him somewhere between the annual salaries of Matt Cain ($20 million) and the Dodgers’ unsung stud Zack Greinke ($24.5 million), who has a longer track record of success and is younger than Scherzer.
With that in mind it was rumored that the Tigers had Scherzer on the trading block this winter. Detroit eventually found a way to maneuver his return without piling on a payroll that surged towards $150 million last year. Retaining a rare 20-game winner like Scherzer had to figure prominently in the Tigers decision to shed some cap and risk leaving Miguel Cabrera exposed in the lineup by trading supreme slugger Prince Fielder for an aging Ian Kinsler. They also dumped reliable starter Doug Fister for loose change. Even with the salary shedding, the Tigers payroll will again nearly double Tampa’s.
The addition of Price's mint contract makes the Rays' payroll the highest in club history, exceeding the $72 million mark the franchise reached in 2010. Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has called it an unsustainable figure, but the front office is willing to open the bank for their talented 28-year-old, because both sides believe Tampa Bay has a "really good chance to be great" in 2014 with Price and third baseman Evan Longoria leading the way.
"On paper right now, I feel like we have a very good team. Hopefully we can make some kind of run and then let something happen," Price told mlb.com . "If we can have this team that we have right now on paper and everybody stay healthy and produce the type of team that we can all produce, I think we can do something special. I want to be a part of it.”
The Rays also know that this is probably the last hurrah for Price as a member of the squad because $14 million is well below his open market value. He is expected to command a contract in the $200 million neighborhood and Tampa isn’t about the spurge. Their success is based on shrewd contracts, youth movements and a savvy front office that can heist studs like 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Meyers (traded to Royals for James Shields last winter) and African-American hurler Chris Archer (Cubs deal 2011).
Price has been saying since October that he expects to be traded. In December Rays skipper Joe Maddon said he expects Price to be dealt at some point because the numbers he commands doesn't fit Tampa's
"We traded James Shields," Maddon said. "Carl Crawford's gone.B.J. (Upton) left, Maddon told espn.com. “It's just the way this thing works. Again, I guess, let's rewind that thought. Just think if you could have kept all those guys for several years and keep them together for maybe 15 years like the Yankees did starting in 1995, '96 to present time. And I do commit myself to that thought on occasion, but the reality is, that's not the way it is.
"So I don't lament that. I'm really happy for the guys that, once they've done well here, they go somewhere else and do well and make good money for themselves and their family...that’s how things operate in our little world.”
Tampa Bay has made the playoffs three out of the last four seasons. If they hope to continue such a playoff streak in the crazy-talented AL East, the Rays are better off seeing what they could get for Price in a trade , rather than let him just walk away as a free agent once his arbitration eligibility expires after the 2015 season.
The Rays have made it clear that they don't have to trade Price this offseason and even if the pitcher knows his departure is imminent, he’s saying all of the right things to give fans hope that he will make it to Opening Day.
"Hopefully I can stay here for a while. My mindset hasn't changed. I wanted to stay here. Everybody knew that," Price said during a conference call with reporters. "I think it's kind of worked out well for me to come back. Hopefully not too much changes."
Securing price for 2014 is a win-win situation for both sides. The Rays get to go for the gusto with a confident roster and championship hopes. Price gets to add more 0’s to his eventual plush free agent pay day by following up an injury-plagued 2013 season - that saw his win total decrease from 20 to 10 - with a lights-out 2014. Price is the club's all-time ERA boss (3.19) and ranks only behind Shields on the all-time wins list with 71. His strikeout rate has dipped, but his control is still pinpoint as he set a career-best 1.30 walks per nine innings in 2013.
Now that Kershaw is locked up, the focus of the MLB market is on the handful of teams clamoring over Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, who will sign with someone this week. After he chooses a club and then gets his phat contract, the remaining teams will probably turn their focus to acquiring Price, who has weathered the Hot Stove storm and is still a Ray...at least for today.
Regardless of how the chips flip and where the champagne splashes, as long as Price and Scherzer pitch to the back of their baseball cards in 2014, they can start pre-booking parties at the $200 million club for 2015 and beyond.