Future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer will almost certainly be traded before the July 30 trade deadline — all deals have to be finished by 4 pm ET on Friday — and the team that lands the Nationals’ ace will see a huge boost to their World Series prospects.
Speaking of prospects, it will take a couple of those (at least) to land Scherzer. Sure, he’s 37 and will be a free agent after the year and has no-trade rights and his agent, Scott Boras, made noise a few weeks ago about compensation (in the form of an extension) to waive those no-trade rights. But, despite those complications, every World Series hopeful will see whether they have what it takes to land the Cooperstown-bound right-hander.
So far this season, he has a 2.83 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 105 innings. His WHIP this year — 0.886 — is a career low, which is really saying something. He started the All-Star Game for the National League and he’s only allowing 5.8 hits per nine innings. When the Nationals made their surprising run to the 2019 World Series title, Scherzer had a 2.40 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 30 innings; the Nats won all five games he started (and the one in which he pitched a spotless inning of relief).
So where might he be headed? Let’s take a look.
Why he fits: The Dodgers’ rotation at the end of July bears little resemblance to the rotation that started the season. Walker Buehler and Julio Urias are still there — with a 2.31 ERA and 3.60 ERA, respectively — but Dustin May was lost for the season after just five starts, Clayton Kershaw’s on the IL with forearm inflammation and Trevor Bauer seems unlikely to ever rejoin the team as he faces sexual assault allegations. Tony Gonsolin has been a nice replacement (2.38 ERA) in the rotation, and veteran David Price has been solid in his move from a reliever to a starter, though he’s building up innings and his pitch counts.
But the Dodgers have only one real goal this year, and that’s to repeat as World Series champions. To make that happen, adding Scherzer would be a huge boost. It’s not that Price or Gonsolin would make for bad playoff starters, but if L.A. could use those multiple-inning arms in the bullpen instead of the rotation? Remember how much of an impact Urias made out of the bullpen in the club’s October run last year? He closed out the NLDS with five innings of one-run ball in Game 3 against the Padres, then threw three perfect innings to close out the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS and retired all seven batters he faced to end Game 6 of the World Series to give the Dodgers their first title since 1988.
The Dodgers have the prospects in the farm system to make this happen, too. Their well isn’t as deep as some of the teams in the mix — MLB.com, for instance, ranked the club’s farm system No. 14 heading into the year — but they have enough quality and quantity. Adding Scherzer would likely put the Dodgers over the expensive luxury tax plateau, but that feels like more of a speed bump than a road block.
Oh, and there’s this, too.
It remains to be seen if Max Scherzer will be traded, but a source said the pitcher “strongly prefers the West Coast” to waive his no-trade clause. Given the state of the NL West, he could be the difference-maker in that race if he landed with the Dodgers, Giants or Padres.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 27, 2021
Why he fits: San Francisco already has been a surprising thorn in the Dodgers’ side all season, so maybe it would make perfect sense for the Giants to swoop in and trade for the ace that Los Angeles craves. And it fits that whole “Max prefers the West Coast” thing, too.
It’s not that the Giants’ rotation has been a weakness — quite the contrary — but not only would adding Scherzer improve San Francisco’s October prospects, it would diminish the Dodgers’ chances by keeping them from adding Scherzer. This, of course, isn’t a primary reason for making a trade — especially a blockbuster like this — but it would be a nice secondary bonus.
Put him up with Kevin Gausman (2.21 ERA) and Anthony DeSclafani (2.87), along with Alex Wood (3.65) and options such as Logan Webb (3.54), Johnny Cueto (4.09) and possibly even Aaron Sanchez (3.18 ERA in six starts before landing on the IL), and suddenly the Giants have an elite rotation and a couple of multiple-inning relievers that are so valuable in October.
Why he fits: Let’s stay out west, shall we? San Diego has already made a couple of moves, and, as the saying goes, the Padres are leaving no stones unturned in their search for players who could help the club reach the 2021 World Series. But the Padres aren’t just looking for uncovered gems, they’re throwing their shoulders into the giant boulders to see whether they can generate any sort of movement. They have the prospects and the motivation, and though adding Scherzer (and maybe a few others) would probably result in luxury tax penalties, they aren’t opposed to moving money around (trading Eric Hosmer?) if need-be.
Pair Scherzer atop the rotation with Yu Darvish and the rest of the cast of hard-throwing San Diego pitchers and that’s a solid way to enter October.
Why he fits: Well, let’s start with this: The luxury tax hit that would cost the Dodgers a few pretty pennies wouldn’t impact the Rays at all, because they’re obviously nowhere near any plateaus. And deferred money is almost certainly preferred to “now” money. And then, there’s this: After coming so very close to a World Series title in 2020, all indications are that the Rays are being aggressive in the days leading up to the deadline. Scherzer would be a bit out of the ordinary, but exceptions can be made, and the Rays certainly have the prospects to make it happen.
The biggest question, probably, is whether Scherzer waive his no-trade power to join the Rays. He almost certainly wouldn’t get an extension from the club, and no other incentives, either. But the Rays are in very good position — they own the first AL wild-card, 4 1/2 ahead of the A’s — and have World Series aspirations.
Why he fits: Maybe it would feel strange for the Nationals to trade Scherzer within their division, but it’s actually a smart strategy. It’s not like the Mets would be contending directly with the Nationals in 2021, the only year he’d likely be in a Mets uniform, and whatever prospects the Nationals get from the Mets would help D.C.’s team compete against the Mets for years to come. It’s a bigger-picture thing.
But even though the idea of a Mets postseason rotation of Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker is appealing, the cost of acquisition almost certainly would be too high, considering that a starting pitcher isn’t the club’s only need.
Why he fits: Maybe he can be a reliever? I kid, I kid. But throwing Scherzer into the rotation — the Astros had a lot of success with a later-in-his-career guy in Justin Verlander — would allow a starter to shift into the bullpen. Here’s maybe the biggest wrench to throw into the mix: Hard to believe Scherzer would waive his no-trade power to approve a deal to the Astros, the team he said “crossed a moral line and cheated” with their sign-stealing scandal of a few years ago.
Why he fits: Barring some sort of epic collapse, the Brewers are pretty much a lock to win the NL Central, and adding Scherzer would give Milwaukee a rotation of four All-Stars, along with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. That’s a nice October mix, eh? But it still feels like the Brewers’ biggest need is adding an established bat or two, and addressing that issue AND trading for Scherzer probably isn’t possible.