The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Max Scherzer, $210 million man

Placeholder while article actions load

Max Scherzer’s reaction to his $210 million contract with the Nationals was the only rational reaction to such an phantasmagorical figure .

“It was jaw-dropping,” Scherzer said Wednesday during his introductory news conference. “You just can’t even fathom it.”

Scherzer should get used to that number, because he and it are going to travel in pairs from now on. They’re going to be in headlines together. They’re going to be in highlight packages together. And at the smallest hint of failure, the right-hander will be bludgeoned over the head with a familiar value.

“I don’t play this game for money,” Scherzer said. “But yet, at the same time, when you have an offer like that, it just makes you go ‘wow.’ ”

Other Washington athletes have danced with similarly monstrous nine-figure partners, and they nearly always say the same thing at the beginning.

“I know it’s extra pressure, but I have to play the same,” Alex Ovechkin said after signing his 13-year, $124 million extension with the Capitals in 2008. “If you think of pressure, it’s hard for you. I have to play the same way — play more, play better.”

“I know what kind of pressure comes with it,” Gilbert Arenas said after signing his six year, $111 million contract with the Wizards a few months after Ovechkin’s deal. “But as long as you’re winning and as long as I do my best, I don’t think I’m going to get criticized too bad.”

“With the contract, it’s going to be all on me,” Albert Haynesworth said after signing his $100 million deal with the Redskins in 2009. “You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust.”

All three men, of course, later came under heavy fire for their post-contract performances; two of them departed D.C. before their contracts had even expired. Baseball economics are considerably different, it goes without saying, and Scherzer seems unlikely to fail conditioning tests or bring weapons to a card fight. But agent Scott Boras readily admitted that $210 million is part of his client’s new reality.

“Look, I’ve done numerous record-breaking contracts,” Boras said. “There’s a book. There’s a definite book about what you make sure you don’t think about when you go out to perform, because … you want to come here and you want to do so much so soon. And that is not how you performed before. And so you’ve got to make sure that that player’s psychology is absolutely intact.”

What else does that book say?

“What everyone knows about you has to be what got you there,” Boras said, “not what that number represents.”

What got Scherzer here was the strikeouts — at least 230 for three straight years — and the durability — at least 30 starts in six straight seasons — and the success. Which is why Boras said Scherzer knew what was coming to him this offseason, knew that his decision to reject a $160 million deal last spring would pay off.

“Max knows his market value,” the agent said. “This man is very studied. He studied finance; he knows the market for a player of his services and years.”

But Boras acknowledged that the final moments of a deal like this can be surreal for the player, even if the contract “really evidences what he is.”

The massive signing bonus and historically large deferrals made the contract possible — “if that didn’t happen, there wouldn’t have been a deal,” principal owner Mark Lerner said — and also decreased the contract’s value in 2015 dollars. Still, $210 million is $210 million.

“It’s a huge number,” Rizzo agreed. “The way we constructed it I thought was a very outside the box, helpful-type of payout. That was the only way we could have gotten the deal done, because that’s the only way it fits for us. …  Although the numbers are staggering, it’s kind of Monopoly money at times. But the acquisition cost for players like this are high, and as you see in the industry, these guys warrant this type of money.”

Not everyone agreed this was Monopoly money — “I mean, a dollar’s a dollar and you’ve got to figure out how you’re gonna pay for it,” Lerner said. And with money pouring out of every crack in the industry, the largest-ever contract for a right-handed pitcher will soon be surpassed by another fantastically big number for a different player in a different town. But if Scherzer wanted to understand the weight a big contract can sometimes carry, he could have asked the hirsute man in the front row at his news conference.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Jayson Werth told The Post’s Adam Kilgore in 2013, a couple years into his own $126 million deal. The big contract “definitely doesn’t make it easier. It comes with more responsibility, more pressure, more — just more of everything.”

Which is why D.C. has uneasy memories of men like Juwan Howard, booed incessantly for the crime of not living up to his $100 million price tag.

“It’s got to be the money,” Howard once said to Michael Wilbon, trying to explain the fan dissatisfaction. “What else could it be?”

This, though, was a joyous day, a day in which all monetary chatter carried positive connotations. “I’m gonna put my money on this guy,” Rizzo said. “I want to ask him for a loan,” Mark Lerner joked. “It was a wild moment,” Scherzer said, again thinking back to his $210 million phone call. “Very happy.”

A TV reporter later asked Scherzer if he had wrapped his head around that figure.

“I don’t think you can,” the pitcher said. “You just enjoy it.”

For now, at least.

Loading...