By Ken Davidoff
Scott Boras, not only the king of free agency but the king of analogies, too — remember his riffs on which supermarket aisle we could find the Mets in? — has a new one for us. An analogy, not a free agent.
“Sometimes, owning a major league team is like hunting,” Boras said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “You go out in the wild, and all of a sudden, the opportunity for the kill is there.
“I go to reach for my weapon, and I realize, ‘Uh-oh. How many bullets did I bring?’ The answer is if I’ve got one shot on this, I’ll stay where I’m at. If I want to have a real opportunity to win, I’d better put the extra bullets in the gun. Or, you can buy the ultimate weapon.”
That would be Max Scherzer, the top free agent of this offseason by any reasonable standard. And the only known barrier to a rather boring baseball January, once we get beyond the annual Hall of Fame results and subsequent angry debates.
It doesn’t surprise us that Scherzer appears nowhere close to signing a new contract with anyone, a deal that is expected to top Jon Lester’s six-year, $155 million agreement with the Cubs. Boras often acts deliberately and methodically in finding deals for his top-shelf clients. What stands out this winter is how bare the free-agent cupboard looks beyond Scherzer.
On Nov. 4, The Post ran my Top 30 Free Agents chart. Of those 30, only seven remain without employers: Scherzer, James Shields, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Rasmus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nori Aoki and Stephen Drew.
Shields’ free agency has been remarkably quiet; the Red Sox and Giants are among the reasonable bets to land the workhorse. Kuroda, who turns 40 in February, hasn’t yet informed the Yankees whether he intends to pitch another year. The rest of the group figures to quietly find homes.
There’s nothing quiet about Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner whose status has evoked cloudiness unusual even by Boras’ high standards.
Many clubs, among them the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers, have been vocal about their disinclination to enter the Scherzer sweepstakes. The Angels are sending signals they’re good to go with their current starting rotation. The Tigers and Nationals, two favorite destinations for Boras clients in the past, also say they aren’t going there.
The small-market Cardinals never have gone so high on one player; they gave Boras client Matt Holliday a seven-year, $120 million contract in January 2010 for their franchise record. The Cubs have the payroll flexibility to acquire Scherzer, even after getting Lester, yet they, too, have publicly stated they won’t be shopping in the Scherzer aisle.
The Blue Jays, who have upgraded considerably this winter by adding Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders, didn’t even want to spend heavily on a reliever, so Scherzer seems out of their price range, too.
Which leaves us with … well, someone, somewhere has got to give. Scherzer is too good not to land on his feet, and Boras has too much experience in this neck of the woods.
“Max Scherzer can take a club that is an 82-to-86-win team and make it a division-winning club,” Boras said. “That’s the impact that his talents have on the 2015 season and beyond.”
Scherzer’s Wins Above Replacement the previous three years total 16.9, by the count of Baseball-Reference.com, or 16.5, as per FanGraphs. That’s more than five wins per season. So at the least, he could vault those 82-to-86-win teams into the playoff race and then give them an October ace.
The best guesses here are the Tigers, since Detroit owner Mike Ilitch has a history of adding to his payroll to fill needs and David Price is a year away from free agency, and the Cardinals, as Scherzer was born in St. Louis and pitched for the University of Missouri. Also, since I picked the Cubs to sign both Lester and Scherzer at the start of this process, I’ll include them, too.
One official from an AL club on Tuesday speculated the possibility of the Nationals trading Jordan Zimmermann, a year away from free agency himself, and signing Scherzer. Another official from a second AL team pegged the Angels as the team to give in and sign Scherzer.
The mystery, the hunt, lingers as we hit the holidays. For our purposes, let the Scherzer Sweepstakes last all the way until pitchers and catchers report. There’s little doubt how this will end. The suspense lies in the “where” and the “when.”