Here’s what a new team would inherit (aside from a Hall of Fame-caliber ace): About a third of Scherzer’s $35 million salary to be paid in 2028, when inflation would lower the overall value of that amount. But it would shoulder about a $12 million hit toward the competitive balance tax threshold for 2021, since that is determined by the average annual value of a contract, not what a club owes a player in a specific year. That could deter teams that don’t want to exceed the tax threshold and pay overage fees this year. These terms were first reported by the Athletic.
So if the Nationals trade Scherzer, they will still owe him $7.5 million in September, finishing out his $15 million payment for the season. And if they agreed to take on some of the money deferred to 2028, they could improve the prospect return for the right-handed starter. That assumes ownership is committed to using the deadline to better a bottom-ranked farm system, not just line its pockets with offloaded contracts.
Scherzer, who turned 37 on Tuesday, is dealing with triceps discomfort that kept him from pitching Saturday. Add it to the list of complicating factors. Because Scherzer has played 10 years in the majors and five consecutive with one team, he has to approve any deal. He is open to moving, according to three people with knowledge of his thinking, and the 10-5 rights will help him dictate his destination.
Beyond Scherzer, the Nationals should receive interest in veteran relievers Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand, utility man Josh Harrison and perhaps catcher Yan Gomes. Harrison is receiving interest from multiple teams already, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber is generating a good amount of interest, according to a person familiar with the matter, even though he’s still recovering from a significantly strained right hamstring.
The Nationals have also received a lot of calls for shortstop Trea Turner, according to a person familiar with the matter, but would only move him for a no-brainer offer. Turner exited Tuesday’s game against the Phillies after testing positive for the coronavirus. He hit an infield single in the first, scored on a three-run homer and ran straight down the tunnel instead of celebrating in the dugout. Add that to the list of complicating factors, too.
If not for that hamstring injury, Schwarber would join Turner as the club’s most attractive position players. Yet injuries, performance and now coronavirus protocols could affect what the Nationals receive in their version of a fire sale. Washington (46-54) had lost five straight before a 6-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday and is 7½ games back of the New York Mets in the National League East.
Gomes, 34, is recovering from a strained left oblique and took on-field batting practice Monday. Hand, a 31-year-old lefty, recently went through a very trough stretch. He was on the mound for back-to-back walk-off losses on Sunday and Monday, yielding a backbreaking three-run homer to Andrew McCutchen in the series opener with the Phillies. In his last six outings, spanning 5⅔ innings, Hand has allowed eight runs (seven earned) on five hits and six walks. He did retire three straight after Carter Kieboom made an error to start the ninth inning of the win over the Phillies on Tuesday.
Hand’s one-year, $10.5 million contract includes deferred money, too, lessening the financial impact for any acquiring team. But that full salary would count toward the CBT threshold for 2021 — as in Scherzer’s case — which is a lot for a rental reliever. On Monday, the Oakland Athletics acquired left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin from the Chicago Cubs, sending Class AAA outfielder Greg Deichmann and right-handed pitcher Daniel Palencia.
Chafin, also a two-month rental, was on a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Cubs. He has outpitched Hand and Hudson, though Hudson by a much smaller margin. And a slightly lesser return for either reliever would be a net positive for the Nationals’ thin minor leagues.
“Obviously, I’m not getting the job done,” Hand said after losing to the Phillies, 6-5, on Monday, about 24 hours before he steadied his season. “I can’t keep making mistakes like that in big situations.”
Had the approaching deadline hurt his focus, something Manager Dave Martinez suggested for the whole team?
“We’re all professionals. We show up at the ballpark trying to win the game today,” Hand explained, knocking the thought aside. “What happens at the end of the day is out of our control. All we can do is try to win a ballgame today and try not to think about it. … I’ve been traded before.”
Read more on the Washington Nationals: