Max Scherzer and James Shields still need homes for 2015 and beyond.

The two starting pitchers remain untouched on MLB‘s free-agent market, waiting to select a new employer before Opening Day. While action predictably intensified once fellow ace Jon Lester made his decision, the other premium hurlers did not budge on expediting the process.

Not only are they the best unsigned pitchers, they’re the biggest available names at any position. Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi notes that they are the only lingering players who will cost someone a first-round amateur draft pick:

Each righty is also expecting a hefty contract, demands which are delaying the process. Top-shelf starting pitchers are kind of important, so they’ll have no trouble getting paid before Opening Day. Courtesy of The Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo, here’s the latest on each ace.


Max Scherzer

Scherzer is the grand prize here, and he knows it. Morosi reported his lofty demands weeks ago:

No Scott Boras client will ever take a discount, especially a power thrower who has notched 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over the past three seasons. The 30-year-old will get paid, but likely not as much as he and Boras want.

While sources told Cafardo that Scherzer isn’t appraised at $200 million, recent moves make the Detroit Tigers more likely to pony up a sizable sum for his services:

The more you ask baseball executives about where Scherzer will end up, the more the answers come back Detroit. The Tigers know and like Scherzer, and the feeling is they need him after trading Rick Porcello to the Red Sox, and obtaining Alfredo Simon from the Reds and Shane Greene from the Yankees. The Tigers’ rotation is missing a significant pitcher (you can’t call Justin Verlander that anymore, and David Price may not re-sign). The executives we talked to think Scherzer’s deal will be north of Lester’s six years at $155 million, but well short of $200 million (unless option years are counted).

Losing Scherzer would turn Detroit’s major strength into a concern. After David Price, the rotation turns to Anibal Sanchez coming off an injury-laden year and a rapidly declining Verlander. Greene and Simon can hold down the final spots, but that staff isn’t ranking third in fielding independent pitching (FIP) like last year’s unit. 

After winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2013, Scherzer barely declined in 2014, seeing his FIP drop slightly from 2.74 to 2.85. Detroit’s window to win a title with Price, Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez won’t stay open forever. 

This is usually when the New York Yankees decide they’re done with frugality and swoop in for the steal. Don’t count on it. Team President Randy Levine dispelled that notion to’s Wallace Matthews:

The chances of us bringing in a guy for six [years] and $25 million or over in my opinion is virtually none. At the end of the day you have to be realistic in any organization.

Never say never with the Evil Empire, but they appear true to their word so far, ditching their usual histrionics for low-key yet efficient maneuvers. If that’s the case, the Tigers won’t have formidable competition for Scherzer, and they have never shied away from shelling out huge deals before.

Prediction: Scherzer signs seven-year, $175 million extension with Tigers 


James Shields

Even though nobody is putting out an eager front for Shields, somebody is expected to make him a rich man. Cafardo gave an estimate on his anticipated earnings:

The final Shields numbers are expected to be close to the five years and $110 million remaining (if the option is picked up) on the Cole Hamels deal, according to one major league source who was privy to Shields’s demands. The Giants and Red Sox are in the picture, and the Yankees may be another suitor.

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, however, relayed a different tune from San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean regarding his club’s interest.

“Sabean said he continues to search for ways to deepen the lineup and get more offense after Friday’s trade for third baseman Casey McGehee,” Schulman wrote, “but reiterated that the Giants are not likely to get another big-ticket addition, such as pitcher James Shields.”

Boston GM Ben Cherington also sounds unenamored with Shields, per’s Gordon Edes.

“We like the direction the team is headed in,” he said. “I think it’s more likely if we add anywhere, it’s the bullpen, between now and spring training.” 

Shields will be expensive, but perhaps not enough for the Yankees to bow out on him as well. With Hiroki Kuroda returning to Japan, per an report, they have nobody else on the roster who logged more than 20 starts for them last season.

The baseline doesn’t fit New York’s definition of breaking the bank, and Shields is as durable as they come. He’s thrown over 200 innings in each of the past eight seasons, hurling more frames than anyone since 2011.

That workload, along with declining strikeout rates, will scare squads from giving the 33-year-old a long-term commitment. At the very least, the bitter AL East rivals will drive up the price for the other. Since Boston has more pieces to acquire a younger ace on the trade market, look for the Yankees to ultimately pay up.

Prediction: Shields signs with Yankees for five years, $95 million

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