Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 10/21/13
The iconic snapshot of the just-completed ALCS is a Boston cop named Steve Horgan arms raised in a V in the Red Sox bullpen in front of Torii Hunter his torso obscured by the low wall his legs straight up. Hunter nearly made a catch for the ages. Almost snared a bases-loaded two-out liner off David Ortiz’s bat — his effort maximum. Had he caught it and preserved a 5-1 eighth-inning lead in Game 2 the Tigers probably hold on to win. Head to Detroit with a two-games-to-none edge and Justin Verlander waiting in Game 3. Instead Ortiz’s shot landed in the pen and Hunter was the Tigers — now and in recent years. So tantalizingly close to greatness. In the past three seasons Detroit has lost in the ALCS the World Series and this latest ALCS in six games to Boston. The Tigers’ shortcomings were exposed in the series — a poor bullpen and iffy speed/athleticism which really showed on the bases and defense. Plus Miguel Cabrera underperformed due to a lower-body injury that will probably now be fully detailed. Also Prince Fielder disappeared — no homers or RBIs in 11 postseason games. The Tigers still move forward in fine shape with arguably the best hitter (Cabrera) and starter (Verlander) of this era backed by a strong supporting cast a top general manager (Dave Dombrowski) and a go-for-it owner (Mike Ilitch). But they have huge decisions that promise repercussions throughout the sport including in New York. None is bigger than whether to trade presumptive AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Dombrowski told me “Anyone who says that has been discussed on a serious level is wrong.” But I was surprised how many outside executives said Scherzer would absolutely be on the block this winter. And then equally surprised by how many echoed what this AL executive said: “It might be posturing to try to influence Scherzer to engage in a long-term contract. Try to scare him that he will get traded so he can pressure [agent] Scott Boras. It won’t work but I think that’s the tactic.” Scherzer can be a free agent after the 2014 campaign. In Cabrera Fielder and Verlander Detroit already has three contracts of $20 million-plus annually and Cabrera comes free after the 2015 season. When I asked if the Tigers could afford four mega-contracts Dombrowski said in theory yes but it would probably mean incorporating inexpensive youngsters in many areas. Dombrowski also said “there have been a lot of things I didn’t think we could do financially and then we could.” That was a nod to Ilitch the ailing 84-year-old owner who has made it clear he wants a title in his lifetime. Nevertheless the starting pitching free agent market is weak and so this could be the best time to net a big return for an ace which is why names such as Scherzer the Rays’ David Price and the White Sox’s Chris Sale will surface. Remember when Dombrowski thought he needed financial relief and multiple parts he was unafraid to trade Curtis Granderson in his prime which is how he got Scherzer in the first place. Still my gut says Detroit will keep Scherzer in a rotation with Verlander Anibal Scherzer and Doug Fister as the strength of the team. Instead to better afford Scherzer’s roughly $15 million salary for 2013 the Tigers will try to trade Rick Porcello (two years from free agency) and not give the $14.1 million tender to free-agent Jhonny Peralta. In Drew Smyly the key lefty in their pen this year the Tigers have a pitcher ready to step in for Porcello who is the kind of innings eater the Mets should pursue — especially because his stuff might play up further in the NL.
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