Max Scherzer Rumors

Free Agent Faceoff: Max Scherzer vs. Jon Lester

A look at this year’s market for free agent starting pitching reveals a group that is deep in quality options and also features a pair of prime-aged top-of-the-rotation arms in Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. This duo, represented by Scott Boras and ACES, respectively, is commonly believed to be the cream of the free agent crop, but which will be the better buy?

Few pitchers have been as dominant as Scherzer over the past two seasons. In that time, he’s pitched to a 3.02 ERA with 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 36.5 percent ground-ball rate in 434 2/3 innings. His K/9 rate trails only Yu Darvish among qualified starters, and he grades out well according to ERA estimators FIP (2.79 — sixth) and SIERA (2.94 — eighth). In that two-year stretch, Scherzer leads qualified starters in ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K/9 and opponent batting average (.216), to name a few categories. He’s entering his age-30 season on the heels of a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of top five finishes in the Cy Young voting — including his first Cy Young win in 2013. The 6’3″, 220-pound right-hander has cemented himselves among the game’s elite arms and is looking for a sizable payday, as evidenced by his rejection of a six-year, $144MM contract extension in Spring Training.

Lester is no slouch, however, as he ranks second to Scherzer in ERA (3.10) and FIP (3.19) among qualified free agent starters in that time. His SIERA mark, though a ways behind at 3.49, is still third-best over the past two seasons (Brandon McCarthy sits between them). Beyond that, Lester has been more of a workhorse in his career; he has reached the 200-inning mark in six of the past seven seasons, falling shy only in 2011 when he tossed 191 2/3 frames. Lester certainly keeps the ball on the ground more often than Scherzer, with a career ground-ball rate just under 47 percent and sitting at 43.7 percent over the past two seasons. Lester is also coming off the best platform season of any free agent starter, having pitched to a brilliant 2.46 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate. He’s spent almost all of his career in the hitter-friendly AL East, whereas Scherzer has spent more time in a more favorable pitching environment (Detroit’s Comerica Park). Lester is a year older than Scherzer, however, and he’s thrown about 300 more innings in his big league career. He’s rumored to already have an offer upwards of $120MM from the Red Sox, and another possibly as large as $135MM from the Cubs, so the price tag figures to be substantial here as well.

In our free agent profiles, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted a seven-year contract for Scherzer while I personally went with six years for Lester, but it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see a team guarantee Lester that seventh season. The above paragraphs are a mere snapshot of each pitcher, while the linked profiles offer a more in-depth look at the pair of aces. You can read over those to brush up on each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses before making a vote below if you wish, but let’s get to the question at the root of this post.


Scherzer, Lester, Shields And Career Pitch Counts

Agent Scott Boras has the prize of free agency in Max Scherzer, and Boras has taken to touting his client’s “pitching odometer.”  Boras explained to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, “[Scherzer] really has the [arm] of a 25 or 26 year old. This is like signing a 25 or 26-year-old pitcher.”

Perhaps reflecting what is found in Scherzer’s binder, Heyman cited the following stats:

“Did you know Scherzer, 30, has thrown 20,954 pitches, to 26,321 for Jon Lester and 29,461 for James Shields, the other top two free-agent pitchers in a top-heavy market containing three aces?”

Scherzer has thrown 8,507 fewer pitches than Shields and 5,367 fewer than Jon Lester. This difference may seem relevant, but in the end it will not matter. Instead, the focus should be on the trio’s birth date.

Context For Number Of Pitches Thrown

When looking at the total number of pitches, the zeros get in the way. For each game started, an ace will throw about 100 pitches. Most aces will start 30+ times a season, so each healthy ace-level pitcher can expect to throw at least 3,000 pitches in a season. The number could grow even higher with longer starts, more regular season starts and postseason games. Just using 3,000 pitches for a season and looking at each pitcher’s age, Boras’ difference can be explained by prorating the pitches thrown back to their age-29 season (Scherzer’s age at the end of last season).

Pitches prorated back to age-29 season
Scherzer: 20,954
Lester: 23,321
Shields: 17,461

The number of pitches thrown really just comes down to age. Scherzer’s arm had less mileage on it than Lester’s arm at the same age, but more than Shields. The difference of 8,500 pitches may seem like a ton, but for pitchers four years apart in age, the number is completely reasonable.

Pitches Thrown And Likelihood Of Next-Season DL Stint

Now, is there a magic number of pitches when a pitcher’s arm just quits being healthy? Is 25,000 pitches the point? 30,000? My study finds that no magic number exists. Actually, the opposite is true.

I looked at the career pitches thrown by pitchers from 2001 to 2012, then put the pitchers into 3,000-pitch groups and to find their chances of a DL stint next season. Here are the DL percentages for pitchers as they put more mileage on their arms.  (Note: 39% of all established pitchers will go on the DL at some point the next season.  (n) refers to the number of pitcher-seasons in the sample.)

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-8999 (674): 36%, 24
9000-11999 (470): 39%, 26
12000-14999 (324): 40%, 29
15000-17999 (225): 45%, 33
18000-20999 (179): 37%, 29
21000-23999 (111): 42%, 26
24000-26999 (99): 39%, 24
27000-29999 (88): 39%, 27
30000-32999 (71): 45%, 38
33000-35999 (47): 34%, 27
36000-38999 (28): 50%, 21
39000-41999 (26): 38%, 27
> 42000(79): 37%, 23

There are some increases and decreases, but generally the DL rate hovers around the expected 39%.

Here are the numbers grouped into 9,000-pitch blocks.

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-14999 (1468): 38%, 26
15000-23999 (515): 42%, 30
24000-32999 (258): 41%, 29
33000-41999 (101): 40%, 25
>42000 (79): 37%, 23

It may not seem intuitive that pitchers will have a smaller DL chance as they throw more, but they do. At 24,000 pitches, a pitcher has been productive and healthy enough to be in the league around eight seasons.  Besides just the number of DL stints, the time spent on the disabled list is just as important. The pitchers could go on the DL and stay there because of a major injury. If high-pitch pitchers were staying on the DL longer, the average number of days would be seen going up.  Instead, they decline.

Pitches Thrown And Expected Future Innings Pitched

The three pitchers in question — Scherzer, Lester, and Shields — are each looking for a multi-year deal. How many innings can teams expect out of these pitchers in the future? Looking at the pitches a pitcher has thrown in his MLB career from 2001 to 2009, here are the innings thrown in the next five seasons.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-8999: (468): 302
9000-11999: (364): 324
12000-14999: (249): 354
15000-17999: (176): 398
18000-20999: (129): 426
21000-23999 (86): 427
24000-26999 (81): 446
27000-29999 (68): 372
30000-32999 (45): 430
33000-35999 (32): 381
36000-38999 (17): 557
39000-41999 (18): 508
> 42000 (68): 476

And now the same data grouped into a few large groups.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-14999 (1081): 322
14000-23999 (391): 414
24000-32999 (194): 416
33000-41999 (67): 460
> 42000 (68): 750

Just because a pitcher has a ton of mileage on his arm doesn’t mean he is about to break down. He could continue to throw for years to come. The more pitches a pitcher has thrown, the better the chances he continues to throw. The three pitchers in question have passed the threshold of being healthy and good.

2015 DL Chances For Scherzer, Lester, Shields

Every pitcher (including these three) will eventually break down, we just don’t know when. An injury risk can be assigned to every pitcher. I have used a DL chance formula to determine the chance a pitcher will end up on the DL with accurate results. Using the formula, here their DL chances for 2015.

Name: Scherzer, Lester, Shields
Age: 29, 30, 33
GS (’12 to ’14): 98, 98, 101
DL Stints (’12 to ’14): 0, 0, 0
DL Chance: 34%, 35%, 38%

These three pitchers each have health (no recent DL stints) and a history of being able to make about 33 starts per season on their side. The only difference among them is age, which makes Scherzer the least likely to end up on the DL.

Boras continues to mention Scherzer’s pitching odometer as an advantage over Lester and Shields. However, the number of pitches thrown is not indicative of future injury. A high number shows the pitcher can hold up to the grind of being able to successfully throw for full seasons. The main issue between the three pitchers is age. Scherzer is four years younger than Shields. Scherzer’s body may still be able to hold up a bit better than the other pair, but they are still some of the healthiest pitchers in the league. The debate about the trio’s durability should begin and end with age.


Giants Casting Wide Net, Have Contacted Scherzer

After losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants are casting a very wide net and have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding top free Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants appear to be scouring the trade and free agent markets for upgrades, as Heyman reports that they’ve at least initiated talks with free agents Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Chase Headley, Torii Hunter, Justin Masterson and of course Yasmany Tomas (their interest in Tomas has been well-documented). Beyond that, they’ve kicked the tires on Atlanta’s Justin Upton, and their interest in Jon Lester was reported yesterday as Sandoval looked to be on the verge of departure.

San Francisco’s interest in Scherzer isn’t terribly surprising. The team will bring back ace Madison Bumgarner and stable veteran Tim Hudson, but Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum‘s reliability has taken s nose-dive in recent years. Both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy are free agents. Yusmeiro Petit was excellent in 2014 but totaled only 129 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason. He’s certainly done enough to warrant a look in the rotation, but the lack of innings could be cause for concern.

In terms of their offensive targets, Heyman hears that the Giants are more likely to go with a cheaper option to replace Sandoval at third base, instead spending bigger on a replacement in left field for Mike Morse. He notes that they’ve taken a “close look” at Upton and have even reached out to former Giant Melky Cabrera, though one team source described Cabrera’s departure from the Giants as “awkward” to Heyman. (Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 to close out the season as the Giants pushed toward a World Series victory.)

Earlier today I looked at some post-Sandoval options for the Giants, listing several trade and free agent targets that the reigning World Series Champions could pursue.



Quick Hits: Twins, Albers, Bavasi, Scherzer

The Twins will hire Neil Allen as their pitching coach, write LaVelle E. Neal III and Phil Miller of the Star Tribune. However, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (via Twitter) that Allen has been told “absolutely nothing.” Allen has coached in the Rays organization since 2007, including the last four years as the Triple-A pitching coach. He has no major league experience. The other finalist, former Indians and Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, was informed on Friday that he had not been selected, per Berardino (tweet).

  • Former Twins starter Andrew Albers would consider a return to Minnesota if he doesn’t remain in the Korea Baseball Organization, writes Berardino. Albers spent 2014 with the Hanwha Eagles. He pitched to a 5.89 ERA in 151 and one-third innings. While the ERA was unsightly, the KBO is an offensively oriented league. Per KBO rules, Albers is not yet eligible to speak with major league clubs.
  • Former GM Bill Bavasi has been named the head of the Major League Scouting Bureau, tweets John Manuel of Baseball America. Bavasi, who comes from a storied baseball family, was the GM for the Angels and Mariners for a combined 11 years. His father Buzzie and brother Peter each also served as GM for two franchises (Buzzie oversaw the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles).
  • The Nationals could emerge as a destination for Max Scherzer, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister just one year away from free agency, the Nationals are considering their options moving forward. That includes a trade involving either pitcher. If an in-house candidate is dealt, Scherzer could be looked at as an alternative and long term solution. However, Wagner notes that the rotation is deep. GM Mike Rizzo adds that it’s “not on the top of our wish list.”

Free Agent Notes: Robertson, Lester, Hunter, Scherzer

While Andrew Miller is said to have multiple three-year offers in hand already, the other top reliever on this year’s market, David Robertson, just may end up finding someone to meet his reported asking price of “Jonathan Papelbon money.” Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com spoke with four executives, each of whom believed that Robertson would receive his desired four years and at least come close to Papelbon’s average annual salary. An NL exec said he thought Robertson would meet his goal, while an AL exec said that though his first instinct was “no,” after seeing how the market has played out early on, he’s changed his thinking. A second NL exec and an AL scout said they could see at least four years and $40MM, with the scout saying it could go higher, because it only takes one team to push up that value.

Here’s more on some of the top free agents of the offseason…

  • Jon Lester will meet with at least two more teams next week, a source tells WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Lester met with the Red Sox, Cubs and Braves this week. The Sox reportedly made a six-year offer in the $110-120MM range and are willing to negotiate further. The Braves reportedly have yet to extend a formal offer.
  • The Twins have a “real shot” to sign Torii Hunter, tweets La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN hears the same (Twitter link), adding that the pitch to Hunter from manager Paul Molitor is that Hunter can come back to Minnesota and provide the same type of mentoring to their young players that Molitor and the late Kirby Puckett provided Hunter when he was a minor leaguer. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets that Hunter would be taking a significant paycut to return to Minnesota, however.
  • Elsewhere in the Hunter market, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Orioles and Giants are keeping Hunter as a back-burner option in case their initial free agent pursuits don’t play out as they hope (Twitter links). In addition to those two teams, the Twins and the Royals, Crasnick hears that the Mariners have kicked the tires on Hunter.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski appeared on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden today and said that while he couldn’t rule out the return of ace Max Scherzer, he feels the chances were better last spring (Twitter link). The Tigers, of course, made Scherzer a six-year, $144MM extension offer, which he rejected.

Free Agent Profile: Max Scherzer

2013 Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer is the prize of the free agent market after another superb season.  He’s a strikeout machine with a strong record of durability, and agent Scott Boras will be seeking a precedent-setting contract.

Strengths/Pros

Scherzer, 30, posted a 3.02 ERA over 434 2/3 regular season innings from 2013-14.  In 2013, he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts for the Tigers and won the AL Cy Young award easily.  He made the All-Star team in both years.

MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Baltimore OriolesScherzer has been one of the game’s most dominant starting pitchers since 2012.  He has a 10.5 K/9 over that period, second among qualified starters in all of baseball.  His ranking is the same in K%; he’s whiffed 28.6% of batters faced during that time.  He’s tallied 231 or more strikeouts in each of the past three seasons and leads all of baseball with 723 punchouts over that time.  Scherzer also has good control, with a 2.5 BB/9 over the past two seasons.  He uses a four-seam fastball and a change-up, also employing a slider against righties and a curveball against lefties.

Batters made contact on only 74.5% of Scherzer’s pitches from 2012-14, third best in baseball among qualified starters.  Batters swung and missed on 11.9% of Scherzer’s pitches, which ranked fourth.

Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) is the latest ERA estimator, from Matt Swartz.  Scherzer’s 2.94 SIERA ranks eighth among qualified starters over the last two seasons.  His actual ERA of 3.02 is in line with that, and ranks 11th.

How about durability?  Scherzer hasn’t been on the disabled list since a short stint in 2009.  Even that year he made 30 starts, a number he exceeded in every subsequent season.  His 434 2/3 innings from 2013-14 ranks sixth in baseball, and he tossed another 29 2/3 frames in the postseason.  Still, Boras has pointed out that Scherzer has less wear and tear on his arm than Jon Lester and James Shields.  This is mainly because Lester and Shields signed early-career extensions giving up free agent years, and Scherzer did not.

Put it all together, and Scherzer is an ace, one of the best pitchers in the game.  He’s tallied 12.0 wins above replacement over the last two seasons, tied with Felix Hernandez for second in MLB.  Clayton Kershaw is the best, but Scherzer is in the conversation for second-best.

Weaknesses/Cons

Scherzer is decidedly a flyball pitcher.  This hasn’t hurt him over the last two seasons, as he’s allowed 0.75 home runs per nine innings.  From 2011-12, however, he allowed 1.22 HR/9.  The difference seems like nothing more than the vagaries of his home run per flyball rate, which has hovered around 7.5% over the past two seasons.  Across MLB this year, 9.5% of flyballs left the yard.  Applying that rate, Scherzer would have allowed 4.7 additional home runs this year and posted a 0.93 HR/9.  Simply put: it would not be surprising if Scherzer is slightly below average at preventing home runs during his next contract.

Pitch efficiency is not a strong suit for Scherzer.  He averaged 16.51 pitches per inning in 2014, 70th among 88 qualified starters.  The average qualified starter was at 15.77 pitches per inning.  Scherzer threw 3,638 pitches in 2014, third-most in baseball.

As a player who received and will turn down a qualifying offer, signing Scherzer will require forfeiture of a draft pick.  Jon Lester, who is Scherzer’s biggest competition on the market, is not eligible for a qualifying offer.

Personal

Scherzer was born in St. Louis, Missouri.  He attended high school in Chesterfield, MO, rooting for the Cardinals as a child.  His dad even brought him to Game 4 of the 1985 World Series when he was 15 months old, according to this article from Jeff Passan.  Scherzer was drafted by the Cardinals in the 43rd round in ’03.  He chose not to sign and attended University of Missouri Columbia, getting drafted 11th overall by the Diamondbacks in ’06.  Scherzer majored in business at Mizzou.

Scherzer currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife.  His charitable efforts are extensive, with his Scherzer’s Superstars program and other efforts.

Scherzer draws attention for having been born with one blue eye and one brown one, which is called heterochromia.  Max is also well-known for embracing advanced baseball statistics, using them to help understand the game.  When he was traded in 2009, Scherzer became an MLBTR reader.  He told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “Once that happened, I started becoming a pretty fanatical fan and read it just about every day.”

Market

C.C. Sabathia‘s seven-year, $161MM contract from six years ago remarkably still stands as the largest given to a starting pitcher on the open market (though the Yankees’ total outlay for Masahiro Tanaka last winter was $175MM, including a $20MM fee paid to his former team in Japan).  In 2008, the average American League starting pitcher had a 4.48 ERA.  Sabathia was on an island in the 2008-09 offseason, coming off a 2.70 ERA.

Scherzer is not on an island.  In 2014, the average AL starter had a 3.92 ERA.  As ESPN’s Buster Olney explained, “Major League Baseball’s market has never seen so much attractive pitching available all at once, although executives throughout the sport are aware this shift is something of an optical illusion, created by the historic drop in run production in recent seasons.”  Scherzer’s 3.15 ERA this year ranked 26th among qualified starters.  That would have ranked 12th in 2008.  In ’08, 23 starters were under 3.50.  In 2014, 39 starters were under 3.50, including free agents Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Edinson Volquez, and Jon Lester.

Maybe Boras can make a strong case that Scherzer is the second-best starting pitcher in baseball, but the scarcity isn’t there in baseball or in free agency.  Free agency is rife with solid mid-rotation options this year, and teams ready to spend big on pitching might prefer Lester because he might not require a seventh year.  Or maybe teams would rather take on Brandon McCarthy‘s injury risk at half of Scherzer’s average annual value and potentially as few as three years.

I expect Boras to seek more than $175MM for Scherzer.  That kind of commitment limits a player’s suitors.  As Heyman put it, “It almost seems like Scherzer is too good for the market at times.”  In batting around potential fits with MLBTR’s writing team and others around the game, teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Giants, Rangers, Blue Jays, Mariners, White Sox, Orioles, Nationals, and Diamondbacks came up.  Some of those clubs don’t seem to have the payroll space, others don’t seem to be prioritizing starting pitching, and others have suggested they won’t play at the top end of the market.  Scherzer’s old team, the Tigers, can’t be ruled out yet.

Keep in mind that “this is an owner’s decision,” as Boras put it, as it will happen above the GM level.

Expected Contract

The Tigers made the unorthodox move of releasing a statement in March after Scherzer rejected a six-year, $144MM offer.  The statement mostly made the pitcher sound greedy, and was met in kind by a statement from Boras.  The Tigers’ offer was the Cole Hamels deal, which was nearly two years old at that point.  Boras viewed that as an old market price, with Tanaka and Kershaw having signed more recently for $175MM and $215MM, respectively.  Boras told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports in November, “It’s rare that someone shows the character and confidence to trust his ability to turn down $144 million.  That’s never been done in professional sports. And that says a lot about Max Scherzer.”

It stands to reason that Boras will want the seven year term achieved by Tanaka and Sabathia.  Tanaka’s deal began with his age 25 season, Sabathia’s with his age 28 campaign.  Scherzer’s deal will begin with his age 30 campaign, so he’s got a tougher case, one he’ll make with the “less wear-and-tear” argument.  And don’t be surprised if we hear about Boras asking for eight years, as a way of arriving at seven in the end.

For average annual value, the $30.7MM figure obtained by Kershaw is likely out of reach, though Boras may make the argument that Kershaw’s six free agent seasons cost more like $32MM per year.  Greinke was at $24.5MM, Tanaka at $25MM.  Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander were at $27-28MM per year, but those extensions were not signed on the open market and only added five additional years.

Ten MLB contracts have included opt-out clauses, and Boras did four of them.  The three most recent starting pitcher deals with opt-out clauses were done by Casey Close of Excel Sports Management (Tanaka, Kershaw, and Zack Greinke).  Greinke and Sabathia obtained the ability to opt out after three years.  Boras figures to seek the same for Scherzer, who could then hit the market again ahead of his age 33 season.  The opt-out clause is not a guarantee; Boras didn’t get one for Prince Fielder in the 2011-12 offseason.  But it is possible that some teams won’t view an opt-out as a big negative despite the downside risk, as explained in my article on the topic from February.  The clause could allow a team to sign Scherzer and duck his decline phase, as the Yankees could have done with Sabathia had they let him go after his third year with them.

Getting past Tanaka’s $175MM outlay would be a symbolic win for Boras.  I’m predicting a seven-year, $185MM deal for Scherzer.


AL East Notes: Jays, Sox, Sandoval, Lester, Yankees, Scherzer

The Blue Jays were the only team that put a fifth year on the table for Russell Martin, tweets Jim Bowden of of ESPN.com, and that was the key to landing the backstop. With Toronto having fired the first major offseason salvo in the AL East, let’s see where things stand elsewhere in the division …

  • Martin’s signing does not mark an early conclusion to the Blue Jays‘ offseason, but rather opens up new possibilities for GM Alex Anthopoulos, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. The move also highlights Anthopoulos’s desire to “rearrang[e] the clubhouse dynamics,” says Davidi.
  • Pablo Sandoval met with the Red Sox today, and the club will also sit down with Jon Lester before the lefty flies off for meetings with other suitors tomorrow, reports WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Boston never made an effort to acquire Jason Heyward before he was sent to St. Louis, reports Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald.
  • The Yankees are largely waiting and watching at the moment, according to George A. King III of the New York Post. It is possible that the Rangers would be willing to part with shortstop Elvis Andrus, but it remains unknown whether New York would take on enough cash or part with sufficient prospects to make a deal attractive to Texas. And the team’s own free agents still seem to be feeling out the market at present.
  • King notes that an arm like Max Scherzer could become increasingly appealing to the Yankees as the offseason progresses, and indeed Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that there has been at least “brief contact” between the team and Scott Boras (Scherzer’s agent) since the GM Meetings. New York “may revisit their initial instinct to largely sit this winter out,” per Heyman, who explains that the silence around Scherzer’s market is rather unusual.

AL Notes: Lester, Scherzer, Red Sox, Avila

Which of this offseason’s free agents are most likely to justify their contracts? It’s hard to say, given that we most big-name free agents haven’t even agreed to terms yet, but Doug Miller polled MLB.com’s writers to compile a list of top free agents, and they think Jon Lester‘s next contract is most likely to turn out to be a good one. Miller notes that contracts for pitchers often go south, but points out that Lester is healthy, left-handed and relatively young, and has been a consistently strong performer. Perhaps the most outside-the-box choice is Andrew Miller at No. 3, the idea being that Miller’s lack of closer status will limit him on the market, perhaps to three years and under $30MM. Here are the latest notes from the American League:

  • Scott Boras told Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio he has not heard anything from the Tigers indicating they are not interested in re-signing Max Scherzer. MLB.com’s Jason Beck has a partial transcript of the interview, including Boras saying he is not worried about the lack of teams linked to Scherzer while implying clubs may sign his client and then open a spot in their rotation by trading another of their starters calling this “a two-step process.”
  • Speaking of Scherzer (the top ranked free agent on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list), the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman believes the Red Sox should kick those tires because their rotation is in shambles. Lester is the preferred option, according to Silverman, but a trade for Cole Hamels may wind up being the surest route for the Red Sox to get the caliber of starter they need.
  • The Tigers have until Thursday to exercise Alex Avila‘s 2015 option, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. If the Tigers opt for the $200K buyout rather than the $5.4MM option, Morosi notes Avila will remain on their roster because he is still arbitration eligible.

Free Agent Notes: Scherzer, Lester, Miller, Rios

Talk about the market’s top free agent, Max Scherzer, has been scarce to this point, but agent Scott Boras tells Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he’s not worried about the quiet air surrounding his client. “Premium free agents are rarely talked about at the GM meetings,” Boras said. “This is an owners’ decision. Every GM wants him. There’s always a place for him on every team. The issue is not whether the player is wanted. The issue is whether the owner will make the commitment to try to win the World Series.” Heyman’s piece contains many examples of the litany of stats Boras will use when pitching Scherzer to owners around the league. The Tigers are said to love Scherzer, but indications at this time are that they’re out on Scherzer. That, of course, could change as the offseason progresses, though one Tigers source told Heyman that Boras’ counteroffer to the team’s six-year, $144MM extension offer was “way, way” north of that sizable $144MM sum.

A few more notes on some free agents…

  • While many top free agents take their time to see how the market plays out, a source tells MassLive.com’s Jason Mastrodonato that Jon Lester is willing to sign as soon as the right offer presents itself, “whether it is tomorrow or April 1.” While the Red Sox are known to have a preference to shy away from commitments of four-plus years to pitchers in their 30s (following their five-year deal for John Lackey), GM Ben Cherington implied that the team might be willing to make an exception for Lester, noting that it’s never been a hard policy.
  • Andrew Miller‘s agent, Mark Rodgers, tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that he plans to be “methodical” in discussions with teams and doesn’t envision signing a contract in the near future. Miller is open to pitching in a setup capacity for a contending team with an entrenched closer, but he’s also generating interest from teams in need of a closer.
  • The Twins prefer to add a right-handed bat to their outfield this offseason, and while Torii Hunter has been listed in connection to Minnesota, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that Alex Rios is another name to watch.

Central Notes: White Sox, Royals, V-Mart

Rebuilding is no longer a word the White Sox want to be associated with, Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune reports. “We sit here on the one hand realizing that we have the prime of Chris Sale‘s career ahead of us, the prime of Jose Abreu‘s career ahead of us and wanting to make sure we’re in a position to capitalize and win within that window,” Hahn said. “We want to win, we want to win again quickly and we want to win again repeatedly in the coming years. … We still have work to do to continue that process.” At the same time, Hahn emphasized today that the team has to avoid the “dangerous allure to wanting to make a splash,” as Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports in the course of an interesting look at the team’s options.

Here’s the latest from the AL Central after a busy news day:

  • The White Sox are currently focused on acquiring a right-handed starter, bullpen additions, and a left-handed hitter, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. While the club has in the past looked into dealing for backstops such as Jason Castro of the Astros and Yasmani Grandal of the Padres, that does not appear to be the priority at present, per Rosenthal. Nevertheless, Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com indicates on Twitter that the team does have present interest in Castro.
  • Hahn said today that Chicago is interested in multiple relief acquisitions, as MLB.com’s Phil Rogers reports“We don’t feel the need to go out and get a so-called proven closer,” said Hahn. “We certainly want to have multiple upgrades, and if some of those upgrades give us viable back-end options, that’s great.”
  • Word is that the Royals will meet with the representatives of lefty Brett Anderson this week, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. GM Dayton Moore declined to confirm or deny that or any other meetings. I picked Anderson to go to Kansas City in the MLBTR free agent prediction contest, and think he makes sense for a club that has some added cash to spend on an upside play.
  • The Royals have told Raul Ibanez that they would be interested in employing him in a non-playing capacity, tweets McCullough. Ibanez, of course, is in the hunt for the Rays’ open managerial position, and perhaps it is still to early to rule out a return to an active roster as well.
  • Victor Martinez is at the top of the Tigers‘ list of priorities, writes Paul Hagen of MLB.com, as GM Dave Dombrowski made clear that the team will make every effort to re-sign the DH. The team is still interested in outgoing free agents Max Scherzer and Joba Chamberlain, per Dombrowski, but he said the club is sitting back while both assess their markets.