Snowflakes fell and coated the field at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon, but the kind of baseball buzz normally reserved for mid-summer evenings percolated in the stadium’s news conference room anyway. Once Max Scherzer signed his seven-year, $210-million dollar contract — a formality that made him about 15 minutes late to meet the media –he was followed to the platform by Manager Matt Williams, General Manager Mike Rizzo, and his agent Scott Boras.
Williams, who managed Scherzer in Class AA Montgomery, held his Nationals cap while Rizzo helped him put on the No. 31 jersey he expects to wear for much of the next decade. Jayson Werth was on hand, too, and watched as his new teammate explained the reasons he chose to sign with Washington.
“It’s pretty easy and it’s one [reason for signing]: winning,” he explained. “I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot. So when you look at the near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of.”
According to Scherzer, interest in signing him picked up in January, and the Nationals piqued his interest from the start. Though many around the team and the league felt the signing was somewhat out of the blue and out of character for the Nationals front office, Rizzo said “the plan was laid at the beginning of the offseason, and came to fruition in the last three, four weeks or so.” He also emphasized the commitment of the Lerner family to winning as a prerequisite to making such a significant financial commitment.
“With the acquisition of Max, ownership has allowed us to do our business in the best way we can as far as the baseball side goes,” Rizzo said, as the Lerners sat smiling in Scherzer’s direction from the front row. “They’ve given us all the ammunition that we need to put together a quality team.”
“Nothing has changed in regards to any other player on the roster,” he added, briefly addressing the explosion of speculation that the Scherzer signing will beget moves involving other Nationals’ starters. “We make good baseball decisions based on baseball evaluations and money does not come into play. We love the team we have right now. We feel that it’s a really good, capable ballclub. And we’re looking to better ourselves each and every day.”
Rizzo lauded Scherzer’s character, competitiveness, and stuff — all of which he said he’s seen develop since he drafted the now-30 year-old with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft. Scherzer admitted his new salary is “jaw-dropping.”
“You just can’t even fathom it sometimes,” he explained. “You work so hard to put yourself in this position. For me, like I said, it’s all about winning, I don’t play this game for money, but at the same time when you have an offer like that … it just makes you go ‘wow.’ So I’m very fortunate to be in this position, very fortunate that they want to commit that type of dollar amount to me.”
Matt Williams sat quietly through it all as the inheritor of a new and wonderful kind of problem: what to do with what is now the league’s best rotation, now with an extra arm in 15-game winner Tanner Roark.
“To be able to put any of those names down every fifth day is a privilege for everybody,” Williams said. “What it does is allows us to have a better chance of winning.”
Williams shared memories of the competitiveness he saw in Scherzer when he managed him in Double-A Montgomery in 2007. Scherzer said he’s received text messages from former teammate Doug Fister, and has been working out with reliever Matt Thornton, who gave him the inside scoop on the organization.
“I feel very comfortable joining this clubhouse,” Scherzer said.
In less than a month, he’ll be in spring training, a part of another stellar rotation loaded with the expectations his arrival ballooned, surrounded by questions his contract inspired.
“Mike has been an architect here, creating a team that was at the bottom and is poised to be at the top,” Scherzer said. “That’s something as a player, looking from afar, I was able to see and able to see the run of success. So obviously, when the Nationals start knocking on your door, this is a team you want to be a part of. You start having conversations with the Lerner family and start understanding their commitment to excellence, their commitment to winning, that lines up great with what I want to do. I want to win, and that’s why I’m here.”
More coverage of the Scherzer signing:
Barry Svrluga: Scherzer gives Nats plenty of options
Thomas Boswell: Signing makes Nats better now and in future