Nationals ace Max Scherzer has been one of the most intriguing trade candidates in baseball as the Nationals have slid down the standings following a scorching month of June, but a trade surrounding him is also complicated for myriad reasons. He’s being paid $35MM in 2021 and has more than $100MM in deferred money still owed to him from 2022-28. The Nationals, historically, do not operate as sellers under general manager Mike Rizzo. Scherzer has full no-trade protection as a 10-and-5 player (10 years of MLB service, the past five with the same team). Additionally, agent Scott Boras has previously suggested that Scherzer would require some type of incentive (e.g. a contract extension) in order to waive those rights.
It would seem that at least one of those major hurdles, however, is surmountable. Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports (via Twitter) that Scherzer is open to being traded and would not invoke his 10-and-5 rights for the sole purpose of remaining with the Nationals. However, Scherzer could use that full no-trade protection as a way to have a say in his ultimate destination if the Nats are presented with offers from multiple clubs.
It’s not yet clear whether the Nationals are going to legitimately make Scherzer available, although a weekend sweep at the hands of a 34-64 Orioles club couldn’t have helped convince Rizzo and his staff that the Nats need to operate as a buyer. Rizzo said just under a week ago that he was approaching the deadline with a both a “buy” and “sell” mindset, remaining open to all possibilities depending on how his team played. The implication was that with a strong showing, the Nats would act as they tend to do under Rizzo: make at least incremental upgrades in an effort to push toward the postseason.
That hasn’t happened, however. The Nats are 1-4 since those comments from Rizzo, including the sweep in Baltimore, and the fact that the Nationals had to slow Stephen Strasburg’s throwing program down once again only adds another negative element to the equation. Washington now finds itself eight games below .500, seven and a half back of the division lead and 11 out in the Wild Card hunt. The generally feeble nature of the NL East and the top-heavy trio of contenders in the NL West mean that the only path for an NL East club to reach the postseason is likely via a division title. FanGraphs gives the Nats a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs; PECOTA is only marginally better, at an even 2.0 percent.
If the Nats do indeed make Scherzer available, he’d (obviously) be the best starting pitcher on a market that is lacking in impact arms. The three-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star, who turns 37 tomorrow, has pitched to a 2.83 ERA with a brilliant 35.1 percent strikeout rate and a 6.1 percent walk rate in 105 innings this season. He’s had one astonishing meltdown that the Padres and Daniel Camarena will never forget, wherein Scherzer allowed 12 percent of the runs he’s yielded all season on one pitch to a just-called-up relief pitcher. Outside of that night, Scherzer has allowed 26 runs in 101 1/3 innings of work (2.31 ERA). He’s held opponents to two or fewer runs in 14 of his 18 starts.
It’s also worth noting that Scherzer had his Saturday start against the Orioles scratched due to discomfort in his right triceps. The injury popped up when he was taking batting practice, not pitching and Scherzer has already said publicly that he plans to make his next start. He underwent an MRI that came back clean, and (via MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman), manager Dave Martinez said Scherzer’s bullpen session today went as planned. Assuming he feels fine tomorrow, he’d be in line to start Thursday’s game for the Nationals — their final game prior to Friday afternoon’s trade deadline.
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