2014 Statistics: 220.1 IP, 10.29 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9, 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 5.6 fWAR
2015 Age: Turns 31 July 27th
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
While there's enough variety among the top three pitching free agents this year that team's will certainly have the one that they're honing in on, it's undoubtedly Detroit Tigers star Max Scherzer that will be the prize of the lot. That's no slight to Jon Lester or James Shields, but Cy Young winners that have averaged over 240 strikeouts in the last three seasons don't reach free agency very frequently, and Scherzer is just that. He's also third among pitchers in fWAR during that time, trailing only pitching maestros Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. With a fastball that can top out in the high nineties and a slider that opposing batters hit .206 off of in '14, Scherzer is an intimidating presence to be sure. Pitchers with his track record and electric stuff get historic paydays.
Another interesting factor to consider is Scherzer's mileage. He's thrown 300-plus fewer MLB innings than Lester and 600-plus fewer innings than Shields. And Yankees fans wary of a long-term contract for a power pitcher after CC Sabathia's ill-fated extension should know Scherzer is at over 1,000 innings fewer than the big lefty was at the time of his deal in 2011. It doesn't mean that giving Scherzer a huge deal is a smart move, just that there are considerations that make him not just another 30 year-old pitcher. He may be a safer bet than he appears at first blush.
All that being said, what does that mean for the Yankees? Early reports are that the Yankees are staying out of the Scherzer sweepstakes, but if history is any indication even an initial hesitance in free agency doesn't mean to count the Yankees out. The team will surely do their due diligence on Scherzer and depending upon his market and demands could either pay him no mind or swoop in and drop a contract on his lap. Things can change that suddenly when you have the most money in the entire sport.
Also, don't allow the Yankees pitching success in 2014 convince you that the Yankees have no immediate need for Scherzer and his golden arm. Sure, their offense was not very potent. But there's injury questions at the top of the rotation and Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy are free agents, so if the Yankees don't splurge on a guy like Hanley Ramirez the best opportunity to improve the team could be by picking up another ace like Scherzer. You might not have heard this before, but they say you can never have too much pitching.
There's also obvious downsides to a Scherzer deal. The price is likely to be exorbitant: well in excess of Zack Greinke's six-year, $147 million dollar contract from two years ago. Unlike Lester or McCarthy, there's draft pick compensation attached. Also, it's well known that long-term deals for pitchers are inherently dangerous. Even signing a 25-year old like Masahiro Tanaka still ended with him suffering a severe injury. Healthy, strong pitchers without injury histories or a ton of mileage can go down with just one twinge of their elbow.
In the end, I suspect that the Yankees are being truthful in not pursuing Scherzer at this moment. After all, it's likely to be a long process of courting Scherzer. The only way the Yankees won't get a crack at offering him a deal is if someone gives him an offer so outlandish that he has to take it. The Yankees can take their time looking at safer possibilities with lower ceilings while others try to woo the mighty righty. But if McCarthy gets a deal that's well over what the Yankees think he's worth, or they don't like the slim pickings in offensive upgrades? I would not be surprised in the least if they looked Scherzer's way to make a splash. They're still the Yankees, after all.