Scherzer, Lester and Shields will sign ...

One of these days, one of these weeks, one of these months, Max Scherzer will find a team to pitch for. It might be Christmas Eve. It might be Valentine's Day. It might be in the middle of a spring training game.

But one of these days …

The question, though, is which of these days. And that’s a question I love to pose to executives and agents around baseball every year as we head into the winter meetings:

How’d you like to pick a date when the marquee free agents will sign?

That got tricky this winter, with free-agent hitters flying off the board faster than I could compile predictions. So I decided to confine this year’s survey to just the big three of free-agent starting pitchers -- Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. And the results were as intriguing as ever.

Nine baseball men took part in this year’s survey. Here’s how they saw it:


And now a quick breakdown:

Jon Lester

Obviously, he’s nearing a decision. So in the decade I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had such unanimous agreement on when any free agent would sign. Not only was next Wednesday the average of these picks, it was the exact date selected by nearly half the group.

So what was more interesting were the predictions (all optional) for where Lester will sign. The six panelists willing to cast a vote (several of them split) broke down like this:

  • Red Sox 3

  • Cubs 2

  • Dodgers .5

  • Giants .5

In other words, they don’t know, either. It’s great to learn that this sort of thing represents as big a guessing game inside baseball as it does for the rest of the continent.

Max Scherzer

Now this was fun. An AL exec guessed a St. Patrick’s Day signing by the Cubs. An NL exec predicted a March 4 signing by the Nationals. Another NL exec made Scherzer the winner of his annual “Halftime of the Super Bowl” prediction (but to no team in particular). And only one of the nine panelists picked a date earlier than a month from now. So clearly, Scherzer is going nowhere fast. Literally.

But where is he going? If you truly want to get analytical, if Scherzer really does wait until spring training for somebody’s ace to get hurt, he almost has to be a Yankee, right? The odds of Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia walking off a mound in midinning are certainly not minuscule. And what other team besides the Yankees could find $175 million or so stuffed in a mattress for use on an emergency sign-an-ace fund?

Well, it was just that sort of thinking that drove the confused selections of the five panelists willing to take a guess on where Scherzer will wind up. The voting:

  • Yankees 2.83*

  • Nationals 1.33

  • Cubs .5

  • Tigers .33

(* one vote split two ways, another split three ways)

One GM described this derby as “fascinating,” even to him. But it was good to know that these folks think this is just as entertaining as the rest of us do. Most amusing prediction: The exec who picked March 4 guessed a signing by Washington -- “but if Tanaka gets hurt, it’ll be the Yankees for $50 million a year.”

James Shields

How linked is Shields’ timetable to Lester’s? So closely that one exec even predicted Lester’s signing date would be “two days after Lester,” to a club that misses out on Plan A. (Guess who?) And they all picked dates within two weeks of one another -- with four panelists predicting Shields will choose a team before the end of the meetings.

What nobody seemed to have a feel for was which team that will be. Three predicted a reunion with Joe Maddon in Chicago if the Cubs miss out on Lester. One guessed Shields could reunite with Andrew Friedman in L.A. A fifth picked the Red Sox if they get shut out on Lester. And a sixth took the Cardinals, just on a hunch.

So ultimately, that’s what all of this is, you understand. Just a bunch of hunches from people who do this for a living and still find the prediction business to be highly overrated -- but entertaining all the same.