“He’s a beauty,” Manager Dave Martinez said, and that just about covers it.
So a thought for a player of that stature: Don’t trade him. Just … don’t.
Scherzer will make his 13th start of the season Friday with his Nats eight games under .500 and seven games back of the New York Mets in the National League East. Whether the Nats are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline won’t be determined for at least another month — and probably will take longer. The division isn’t as good as so many (looks in mirror) predicted. The Mets are solid but banged up. Three-time defending champ Atlanta seems stuck in neutral. There’s only one team with a winning record in the group.
But it has to be acknowledged that this could be — could be — the summer for the Nats to reset themselves. The farm system is thinner than it has been in a decade, particularly as it pertains to position players. The major league club is full of players with contracts that expire at the end of this season. If another postseason run is unlikely, it’s Mike Rizzo’s job as the general manager to honestly assess that — andcash in.
Practically, that’s obvious. Emotionally, it’s hard. The job, though, is about removing emotion. The job is to be cold.
Except where it pertains to Scherzer.
Look around the Nationals, and consider what players might bring desirable pieces in return. Juan Soto might just merit an entire minor league system, but he’s not getting traded — not this summer, at least.
Trea Turner, then, would clearly be the most attractive, realistic asset — playing at an all-star level, under contractual control through 2022. Dealing away Turner would signal a full-scale reboot, and his departure could help reinvigorate Washington’s system — not just with one prospect, but a few.
But being open to trading Turner isn’t the same as being able to land the haul you think is worthy. Most of the contending teams have a shortstop in place. Plus, Colorado is certain to deal shortstop Trevor Story — who might not be as impactful as Turner, but would come much cheaper, given his contract is up after this season, not next. To get the proper price for Turner, Rizzo would have to find two October-bound teams needing shortstops who might bid against each other — and that might take an injury.
So, the rest of the roster: Closer Brad Hand is on a one-year, $10.5 million deal and has the benefit of being left-handed. Reliever Daniel Hudson owns a 2.59 ERA and is allowing fewer than a walk and hit per inning pitched. Kyle Schwarber could offer some left-handed power off a contender’s bench. Any or all could bring a prospect — of varying upside — in return.
None could yield what Scherzer would. There’s no contending club that wouldn’t welcome this stomping, snorting fire-breather to its rotation. He has the stuff. He has the experience. He’s still performing at an all-star level. He would be more valuable than any of the above.
But it’s a trigger that shouldn’t be pulled.
Listen, if the Nats’ season isn’t salvaged over the next six weeks ——the current 11-game homestand that was delayed following Thursday’s rainout against San Francisco would be the perfect place to start — I’m all for peddling off parts in an effort to build a contender. Soto and Turner are only guaranteed to be here for so long, and it would be a shame not to have more younger, talented players with which to surround them.
Trading Scherzer, though, is a bridge too far — for a variety of reasons. Start with sheer professionalism. With Stephen Strasburg in limbo because of his health, Soto still young, Turner not signed beyond this year, Patrick Corbin looking wobbly and Ryan Zimmerman’s career ending — we assume, at some point, maybe — this is a franchise that needs a compass. Keeping Scherzer here this summer, then signing him to a two-year deal to stay on further, would provide one.
“I’ve always said the beautiful thing about Max is he competes every single day,” Martinez said Thursday. “I mean, he’s trying to get better every single day. I can only speak volumes of what he does for the rest of these guys as well, the intensity he puts in — in the gym, when he’s running. Here’s a guy that takes pride in the game of baseball.”
That matters. But keeping him wouldn’t be merely for the example he sets. It would be for the pitching he provides.
These stats continue to fascinate me because, with each passing start in the seventh year of his seven-year, $210 million deal, Scherzer reinforces the idea that it’s the best free agent contract of all-time. Over those seven seasons, here is where he ranks among all starters in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and batting average against, respectively: first, third, second, first, second and first. His Cy Young finishes over the first five years of the deal: fifth, first, first, second, third.
Those are stats built over the course of the contract. But they’re not exactly stumbling in this final season. He enters Friday’s start with a 2.22 ERA and a 0.818 WHIP, both of which would be the lowest of his career. He entered Thursday leading the NL in strikeouts. When he should be waning, he is waxing.
“He knows when he has to step on it,” Martinez said. “He just knows how to pitch. … The fact that he can go out there at 110 pitches and throw 97 miles an hour when he needs to is unbelievable. But that’s a testament to how hard he works between his starts to get ready for those starts.”
This trade deadline could be among the most interesting in recent Nationals history, and if the climb back to contention doesn’t happen, almost anyone should be worthy of discussion. Max Scherzer, though, is different. No one has reached Cooperstown because of what he has achieved in a Nationals jersey. Let’s not trade away the first guy who will.
Read more on the Washington Nationals: