An alternate reality with Scherzer a Yankee

One switch and the game of baseball is forever changed

December 15th, 2020

The baseball world changed dramatically on Dec. 8, 2009, when the D-backs, Tigers and Yankees came together to make a six-player deal, with Max Scherzer winding up in Detroit. You know the story from there: Scherzer became the best pitcher on the planet, he helped the Tigers become an AL Central powerhouse, and then he later joined the Nationals and delivered the city its first World Series championship.

But what if it all played out a little differently and Scherzer never played for the Tigers?

Let's go back in time to when those early trade rumors first started. The deal didn't begin with the Tigers asking for Scherzer, but rather the D-backs wanted Edwin Jackson. The teams didn't match up perfectly, so the Yankees got involved. They wanted Curtis Granderson and Detroit didn't have the additional arms that the D-backs required.

Here was the original deal:

D-Backs get: Edwin Jackson (from DET), Ian Kennedy (NYY)

Tigers get: Max Scherzer (ARI), Daniel Schlereth (ARI), Phil Coke (NYY) and Austin Jackson (NYY)

Yankees get: Curtis Granderson (DET)

Scherzer had just finished his first full season in the big leagues, and he looked good for a young pitcher. He had a 4.12 ERA and had struck out over a batter per inning. Still, some in the game thought he lacked the necessary breaking stuff to become a frontline starter and that his delivery made him a better fit in the bullpen.

Meanwhile, the Yankees wanted to protect their young arms: Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the prized arm who was famously given "Joba Rules" as a rookie. But Chamberlain had just come off his first season as a starter and posted a disappointing 4.75 ERA.

What if in this world the Yankees rolled the dice on the starter that everyone thought should be a reliever, and gave up their ace reliever that others thought should be a starter? Suddenly, Scherzer is headed to New York and Chamberlain is headed to Detroit five years before he did in real life. Then our deal looks like this:

D-Backs get: Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy

Tigers get: Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, Austin Jackson, Joba Chamberlain

Yankees get: Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer

The impact isn't felt immediately. In the real world, it took until 2013 before Scherzer became the frontline ace we know today, and that's the same in this alternate reality we have constructed. The Yankees would have been conservative with Scherzer, too -- perhaps even spelling his 2010 season with stints in the bullpen.

Meanwhile, the Tigers would have installed Chamberlain in their rotation, where he would have replicated his performance from the previous season. Detroit finished 3rd in 2010 and that wouldn't change with Chamberlain instead of Scherzer.

Our realities began to diverge in 2011.

1. The Yankees, and not the Tigers, win the 2011 ALDS

This worked out just nicely, didn't it? In our actual reality, the Tigers defeated the Yankees in the ALDS, 3 games to 2. Sure enough, Scherzer picked up the victory in Game 2, pitching six shutout innings to defeat the Yankees.

In this reality, these two teams still meet. The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games in the real world that season and while Scherzer showed promise, he posted a below-league average 4.43 ERA. Replace him with Chamberlain and they're still a playoff team. The Yankees, meanwhile, won the AL East that year without Scherzer, so add him to the rotation and he slots in at the back end instead of Hughes.

Now, that one game Scherzer won belongs to the Yankees, and New York advances to the ALCS to face the Rangers. Fortunately for all of us who were thrilled by the late-game heroics in the 2011 World Series, that matchup doesn't change. The Yankees are not a strong enough team to defeat the Rangers, and so their season ends in the ALCS.

2. The Jesús Montero trade to the Mariners never happens

It was seen as one of the great challenge trades that turned into a bit of a dud for both sides. On Jan. 23, 2012, the Mariners dealt Michael Pineda -- fresh off a dominant rookie season (9-10, 3.74 ERA) -- for Montero, a power-hitting catcher and the No. 12 prospect in baseball. It made sense for both sides: The Mariners were in desperate need of a middle-of-the-order hitter while the Yankees needed arms.

With Scherzer on the club, the Yankees don't need rotation help. And given what the Yankees thought of Montero -- Yankees GM Brian Cashman said at the time that Montero "may well be the best player I've ever traded" -- they decide to keep him and he goes to camp to compete for the starting catching job.

There is one silver lining for Seattle: In reality, the Mariners have not made the postseason since 2001. They came tantalizingly close in 2014, finishing one game behind the A's for an AL Wild Card. Having Pineda on the team (his real-life Yankees stats that year: 5-5, 1.89 ERA) is enough to make up for that deficit. Goodbye, playoff drought.

3. The White Sox win the 2012 AL Central

In the real world, the Tigers won the Central division with 88 wins, just three games ahead of the White Sox. Drop Scherzer, though, and that gives just enough room for the White Sox to squeak by. (Even though the Tigers -- and not the Braves -- acquire Paul Maholm from the Cubs at the Trade Deadline, sending then-No. 51 prospect Nick Castellanos to Chicago years before that happened in real life.)

This White Sox club probably deserved more than it got in the real world, too. Its Pythagorean W-L record was 88-74, and the rotation featured Jake Peavy, Chris Sale and a young José Quintana making his Major League debut.

There's an unexpected delight in all of this: Adam Dunn makes the postseason for the first time in his career. That means his name gets taken off the 14th spot for most career games played without appearing in the postseason. (Sadly, the White Sox will most likely not use Dunn as a reliever during the postseason.)

Because their ALDS opponent was the A's, and we don't want to break too many rules of the universe (one of which being that the A's can never escape the Division Series), the White Sox advance to play, yup, the Yankees.

This time, the Yankees -- a 95-win team that year without Scherzer -- go to the World Series. But again, we're not going to upset even-year magic, and the Giants still get the World Series victory.

4. The Tigers sign Zack Greinke before the 2013 season

Former Tigers owner Mike Ilitch always wanted to win. That's why in the years before his death in 2017, he loaded up the Tigers with stars and inked players like Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Scherzer to big extensions. He signed Aníbal Sánchez in 2013 and then, two years later, added Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton in the same offseason.

So, given that the 2012 team was tantalizingly close to the postseason but fell short because of its pitching, you can expect it would have pushed in heavily. The money that the Tigers paid Scherzer in the real world now goes to snag Greinke.

The signing keeps the Tigers from bringing back Zimmermann in 2015, and even though Greinke isn't enough to keep their window open as a contender longer, he proves to be successful in Detroit before opting out after three years -- just as he did with the Dodgers.

5. The Yankees re-sign Scherzer to a long-term deal following the 2014 season, keeping him from going to Washington and upsetting all the Cy Young Awards

After going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 2014, the real-world Scherzer left the Tigers and signed a 7-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals. But in this world, Scherzer is already on the Yankees and there's no way they're letting their staff ace go.

That means postseason awards are thrown into a jumble, and Scherzer no longer is the sixth pitcher to win the Cy Young in both leagues. The 2016 NL Cy Young Award now goes to the second-place finisher, Jon Lester, and the 2017 NL Cy Young Award is given to Clayton Kershaw.

Meanwhile, Scherzer loses one of his Cy Young Awards. He takes the title from Rick Porcello in 2016, but Corey Kluber keeps his 2017 crown.

Scherzer won't mind too much though, because ...

6. The Yankees win the 2017 World Series

In the real world, the Yankees lost to the Astros in a hard-fought seven-game ALCS. This time, with Scherzer on the hill, the Yankees squeak out a series victory. That sets up one of the greatest pitching duels of all time as Scherzer and Kershaw face off in the World Series. The two best pitchers in the sport, with two historic clubs re-igniting a decades-old rivalry? Yeah, this Series would be one for the ages.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, just like in our reality, they still lose the 2017 title, and the Yankees get their 28th World Championship.

This also changes the outcome of the 2019 World Series. Without Scherzer on the Nationals, the Astros and their loaded pitching staff featuring Greinke, Verlander and Gerrit Cole, get their trophy.

Speaking of Cole ...

7. The Dodgers sign Gerrit Cole

Last winter, the Yankees made the biggest splash when they signed Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract. Now, sure, this is the Yankees, so anything is possible, but they most likely don't add Cole to a rotation that features Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and James Paxton.

So, where does Cole go? There were only two more teams reported to have a serious shot at Cole other than the Yankees, and both were homecomings of a sort for the UCLA product: The Angels and Dodgers.

Well, the Angels still get Anthony Rendon, shoring up their lineup with another All-Star bat for years to come. That means it's the Dodgers who scoop up Cole, adding him to a rotation featuring a future Hall of Famer in Kershaw and two emerging arms in Dustin May and Walker Buehler. Quite frankly, this is the type of pitching staff that could stack up with those superpowered Braves teams featuring Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz of the '90s.

But there is one more quirk to all this: What happens with Mookie Betts? The Dodgers traded for Betts two months after Cole signed with the Yankees in our world. They likely make a similar deal for Betts and the team runs away with the World Series -- just like in real life -- but now they are unable to sign him to a 12-year extension, which means Betts would currently be a free agent.

There is one final change coming:

8. The Phillies sign Mookie Betts (and not Bryce Harper)

One ace card I kept hidden: Without Scherzer on their roster, the Nationals extend Harper before he reaches free agency in 2019. So, say goodbye to the Phillie Phanatic cleats, headbands and suits, because they don't happen.

Instead, the Phillies and their freshly hired president of baseball operations, Dave Dombroski -- who is usually brought in to help a team win right now -- reunites with Betts and signs him to a long-term deal with the Phillies.

Even then, Betts wouldn't be immune to the boos. No one in Philadelphia is.