|Scherzer was dumb to turn down $24 million per year (CSN)|
For that to happen, the 29 year-old is going to have to replicate last season's success and prove it was not a fluke. Scherzer had been a good but inconsistent pitcher before that, certainly not an ace, so he needs another strong season to solidify as reputation as an elite starting pitcher.
Nobody expects Scherzer to pitch as well as he did last year, when he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 214.1 innings--all personal bests. FanGraph's projection systems predict his ERA will slide back up into the 3.20-3.40 range, largely because he's due for some batted ball regression after benefiting from a .259 opponents' BABiP last year (easily the lowest of his career and more than 40 points below his career mark). His home run/fly ball rate was also extremely low at 7.6 percent, so he'll likely surrender a few more long balls in 2014.
Even if Scherzer doesn't regress, there's a good likelihood that he gets hurt. Pitchers are notoriously fragile because of the incredible levels of stress pitching puts on their bodies, and if Scherzer gets hurt or needs Tommy John surgery there's no way he'll be able to command $144 million with a damaged goods label affixed to his name.
But when you get down to it, $144 million is too much to turn down. Let's say Scherzer is awesome again and wins the Cy Young--how much more is he really going to be able to demand? Probably an extra $30 million, give or take. But if he blows out his arm, you can guarantee his price tag will fall by much more than that. Holding out and hoping your arm holds out just isn't worth the risk, in my opinion.
Besides, $144 million is a totally fair price. It's the same contract Cole Hamels got and just three million shy of Zack Greinke, who's a good comparison for Scherzer in that he has one monster season on his resume surrounded by several very good seasons. It's well short of Clayton Kershaw (who's in a league of his own because of his dominance at such a young age), Felix Hernandez, teammate Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, but they were all much more accomplished when they inked their deals. Before last year, Scherzer owned a 3.88 career ERA and had never made an All-Star team, received a Cy Young vote, or completed 200 innings in a season. His most similar pitcher through age 27 was Bobby Jones. If he'd continued pitching like that, you can bet we wouldn't be having this discussion right now. His contract offer would probably be below $100 million.
Scherzer's banking on his ability to be a legitimate ace. I suppose if you're going to bet on anyone, you might as well bet on yourself. But $144 million is a helluva lot to wager, possibly more money than he'll ever see again.