I stumbled upon an article from Mark Feinsand on http://MLB.com today while I was surfing the net, and it caught my attention. The piece focused on the possibility that the Nationals might be willing to trade Max Scherzer if they are out of playoff contention towards the July 30th MLB trade deadline. From the article: “Scherzer, who is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season, has full no-trade rights as a 10-and-5 player, giving him the power to control his destiny between now and the July 30 Trade Deadline. He’ll turn 37 in July, so the idea of joining a contender if the Nationals are out of the postseason race doesn’t seem so far-fetched. ‘Max is a competitor,’ said a source close to Scherzer. ‘If he thinks he has a chance to win, I think he would be open to several scenarios. “He doesn’t strike me as a guy who likes sitting out of the playoffs,” the AL exec added.”
When looking at a player of Scherzer’s caliber, it is hard to find accurate comparisons for him and his current situation. Luckily, if we look back a few years, Justin Verlander was in a similar situation in 2017.
Verlander, who was a former teammate of Scherzer’s, was the ace of a struggling Detroit Tigers squad, which would finish last in the American League. Clearly out of contention, the Tigers dealt the All-Star to the Astros where he went on to throw 34 innings with a 1.06 ERA during the remainder of a season that culminated in a World Series title. He has thrown to ERAs of 2.52 and 2.58 in 2018 and 2019 respectively proving that he can still perform at a Cy Young-winning level (Verlander won the award in 2019).
With a contract expiring at the end of the season, the thing that’s different about Scherzer is that he would essentially be a half-season rental for any team trading for him. When Verlander was traded to the Astros, he still had two years remaining on his contract and then signed a 2-year, $66 million extension with them. Given that he is a bit older than Scherzer, it isn’t wild to compare the two in their output, even if Verlander is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. With this difference in contract status, the big question becomes: how much would a potential trade partner be willing to give back for just half a season of Scherzer?
The other side of the coin is keeping Max in DC and possibly extending him further into the future, especially since he gets the final say in where he goes while still under contract this season. As noted by Richard in a December piece on our site, Scherzer had a horrible 2020 with most of his pitching statistics rated at league-average or below. That could be chalked up to many things, including the incredibly strange circumstances the players were in with their late ramp-up and start of the season due to the pandemic.
Although he is off to a strong start to 2021, it is noticeable that Scherzer has started showing a tendency to give up the long ball more frequently. We saw this post injury in 2019, in 2020, and even in the very first game of this season when he gave up four long balls in one game.
Overall, losing a player of this caliber is incredibly tough due to how well the Nationals have kept on competing year after year despite a depleted farm system. Scherzer means so much to the organization, that it would be exceedingly difficult to get rid of him. Like Richard has mentioned in previous posts, the package that could come back in return, could very well be worth it for long term organizational stability. This is especially true with the looming free agency and potential departure of Trea Turner and Juan Soto.
Taking emotion out of this, which the Lerners seem to be good at, we could potentially receive a great return even for half of a season of a future first-ballot Hall Of Famer.
Trading Scherzer for unproven prospects doesn’t come without obvious risks and (again) we can look at the trade of Verlander to the Astros as a cautionary tale. In that transaction, the Detroit Tigers received a package of top-100 prospect RHP Franklin Perez, 2015 first-round pick OF Daz Cameron, and 2016 third-round pick C Jake Rogers. Since that 2017 transaction, those players have produced a combined -1.2 WAR for the Tigers, while Verlander produced a 1.8 WAR in just the 34 innings he pitched for the Astros in 2017 and a 14.5 WAR in the three seasons since then.
One thing is clear as we sit near the end of April 2021, the Nationals need to get healthy and hopefully avoid having to sell off guys who mean so much to the organization. My preference is to keep Scherzer and possibly give him an extension after the season because of who he is. Turning 37-years-old this summer, “Mad Max” appears to have the drive to want to continue to compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.
Like the AL exec said in the beginning of this article, “He doesn’t strike me as a guy who likes sitting out of the playoffs.” Let’s hope it’s with a curly W on his hat.
Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux