Washington Nationals Rumors

Washington Nationals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Nationals Notes: Scherzer, Strasburg, Trades

Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM contract with the Nationals is still the talk of baseball, and Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com was among the reporters to speak with GM Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family (who own the Nats) and agent Scott Boras at today’s introductory press conference. The massive deferrals in the contract — half of Scherzer’s guarantee is deferred from 2022-28 — were essential to its completion. “If that didn’t happen, there wouldn’t have been a deal,” said Mark Lerner. “It was really my father and (Rizzo) coming up with a creative deal and luckily it worked out for everybody.” Rizzo explained that a straight seven-year deal would not have fit into the team’s budgetary parameters. Boras, meanwhile, said that he had to have multiple discussions with the Lerner family, as the front office and manager Matt Willians approved of the move from a baseball standpoint. Said Boras: “It was really a matter of working out their interests, understanding the complexity, what’s going to be best for the team — long term, short term — their revenue dynamic.”

Here’s a bit more on Scherzer and his new team…

  • ESPN’s Jayson Stark takes a look at the history of seven-year contracts for free agent pitchers and points out that the odds aren’t in the Nationals’ favor on this contract. Kevin Brown‘s seven-year deal with the Dodgers is probably the best signed by a free agent hurler, he writes, with CC Sabathia‘s current seven-year deal ranking second. Brown’s deal ended poorly, and Sabathia’s looks to be on a similar trajectory. Stark spoke with a number of executives about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of seven-year deals for pitchers, with several execs opining that Jon Lester (who signed a six-year deal) is a better bet to hold up in the long term than Scherzer. One GM plainly stated: “Look, these contracts are dumb to begin with. Really, only a three- or four-year deal makes sense. Seven or eight is what the players want. So they should come down to five or six, as opposed to seven. But here’s the thing: It’s all market-based, so you do it.”
  • Boras spoke to reporters, including Tom Schad of the Washington Times, following today’s press conference and quickly debunked the rumor that another of his clients, Stephen Strasburg, is ready to move on from the Nationals. “We don’t know where that came from,” Boras explained. “Stephen Strasburg wants to play here and wants to be with Max Scherzer and grow.” Boras added that at the time of Scherzer’s signing, Rizzo informed him that the team’s intention was to keep the current roster intact. Owner Mark Lerner said the same to Schad.
  • Boras expanded on those thoughts a bit on MLB Network Radio’s Inside Pitch with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern (audio link): “The Nationals have told us that they intend to keep their pitching staff. They intend to try to win a World Series, to try to move forward, and Stephen Strasburg is certainly a part of that…” Boras also explained why he doesn’t foresee the unique structure of Scherzer’s deal as the beginning of a trend, but rather as a unique situation.
  • For those interested, the 15-minute press conference to introduce Scherzer to the D.C. media is available on MLB.com (video link). Scherzer discusses what drew him to the Nationals, being reunited with former teammate Doug Fister and his own reaction to the jaw-dropping $210MM guarantee he will receive. Rizzo talks about scouting Scherzer as an amateur and the Nationals’ offseason plan as a whole, while manager Matt Williams recalls a story from his days as Scherzer’s manager with the D-Backs’ Double-A affiliate.

Free Agent Notes: Moncada, Olivera, Belisario, Santana, Zito

While he awaits clearance from the government, Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada is putting on showcases for interested teams. The Yankees have already put the 19-year-old through the paces, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. In addition to New York and the previously-reported Giants, Moncada has worked out for the BrewersRangersRed Sox, and Padres, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Meanwhile, the DodgersRaysCubs, and Phillies have shown interest. For their part, the Twins will not seek a private workout because they believe the bidding will go too high, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets.

Here are some more free agent notes:

  • Fellow Cuban second bagger Hector Olivera will begin a two-day open showcase in the Dominican Republic tomorrow, Badler reports on Twitter. Olivera figures to be more of an immediate contributor than the younger Moncada.
  • Clubs interested in righty Ronald Belisario, as with Burke Badenhop, include the Blue Jays and Nationals, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The 32-year-old has run up solid innings totals over each of the last three years, but has seen his ERA steadily move north during that stretch. On the other hand, ERA estimators have viewed him as a solidly average performer in each of those seasons, with a low strand rate likely causing most of his troubles in 2014.
  • The YankeesBlue Jays, and Padres are three of the approximately six teams pursuing lefty Johan Santana, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. An upcoming Venezuelan league start could have some bearing on where the one-time ace ends up.
  • Another prominent lefty is plotting his comeback as well. Per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link), Barry Zito still plans to return to baseball after a year off and will put on a showcase this spring. The 36-year-old last threw in 2013, working to a career-worst 5.74 ERA over 133 1/3 innings.

Blue Jays, Nationals In Contact With Burke Badenhop

The Blue Jays and Nationals are among the teams that have been in touch with the representatives for free agent righty Burke Badenhop, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Badenhop’s most recent employer, the Red Sox, were said to have interest earlier in the offseason and are apparently still in the market for relievers.

Badenhop, 31, has been one of the game’s more consistently productive middle relievers over the past several seasons. Since the start of the 2012 season, he has logged 195 1/3 innings of 2.90 ERA ball with a 3.40 FIP to support it. The 6’5 sinkerballer has long been a groundball machine, and last year reached a personal high with a 61% GB%.

With several useful righties still floating around, that market is one of the more intriguing remaining story lines in this free agent cycle. As Badenhop himself recently explained to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, that group of pen arms is waiting for a domino to fall. “[T]here are teams that want me to be on their team,” said Badenhop. “But there’s just no incentive for Team No. 1 to fire the first shot because they know if Team No. 5 fires the first shot we’ll eventually get a hold of Team No. 1.”



Pitching Notes: Brewers, Gallardo, Relief Market, Gregg

  • The Brewers and Nationals seemed intriguing trade partners after their most recent moves, but Milwaukee did not ship out Yovani Gallardo with intentions of dealing for local product Jordan Zimmermann, according to a report from Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Instead, the club will trust young righty Jimmy Nelson with a rotation spot for the coming year.
  • Meanwhile, the Rangers added Gallardo with hopes that he will throw well enough to warrant a longer-term relationship or, at least, a qualifying offer, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets. It remains to be seen whether Gallardo will warrant a qualifying offer after the season, but he seems reasonably likely to receive and reject one. After all, the Brewers picked up his option this year at close to the QO rate and he will surely be looking for a long-term deal entering his age-30 season.
  • Much of the free agent market has been resolved, but right-handed relief remains an area with several options, including not only several former closers but also sturdy middle relief options such as Burke Badenhop. Among the teams with interest in building out their bullpens are the Red SoxDodgersBlue JaysNationals, and Brewers, Rosenthal notes on Twitter.
  • Righty Kevin Gregg will put on a showcase today for around half of the league’s teams, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. Gregg, 36, had elbow chips removed in August but reportedly feels good and is hoping to sign soon. The 12-year MLB veteran was hit hard in just a dozen outings last year, but managed a 3.48 ERA over 62 frames in 2013 with the Cubs.

Poll: What Should The Nats Do Next?

Oftentimes we pose poll questions that require evaluation, quite frequently with imperfect information. This evening, I thought it would be interesting to ask MLBTR’s readers to provide their collective wisdom on an even more open-ended question.

As scarcely needs to be mentioned, the Nationals have reportedly agreed to terms with this year’s best free agent, Max Scherzer. It turns out that Washington already had one of (if not the) best one-through-five rotations in baseball, and that Scherzer adds to the top of that group while bumping Tanner Roark to the pen/depth category. Given those circumstances, and persistent rumors throughout the offseason indicating that the Nats could deal from their core (especially that part of it set to hit free agency after the year), it remains an open question whether more moves are to come.

This is, of course, a hard-to-peg effort that is highly dependent upon other actors around the league, but I thought it would be interesting to see where our readership’s predilections lie. Assuming a market return is available in any of the below scenarios, which is the best from the Nats’ perspective? Here are the likeliest options for another significant move by GM Mike Rizzo, so far as come to my mind:

1) Trade Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister: This basic scenario has been prominently contemplated for quite some time. The idea here would be that these two righties have made clear they will not sign extensions that the team feels comfortable with, so the long-term and short-term presence of one of them replaced by another arm (Scherzer). D.C. can market the pair and take the offer that provides the best value for one or the other. But with one year to go, would it be possible to find a deal that provides enough of a return to justify the loss of a quality arm in advance of a season of expected competition?

2) Trade Stephen Strasburg: If you thought that the idea of dealing Zimmermann would create controversy, wait until everyone starts re-living the 2012 shutdown after a trade of one of the franchise’s two most prominent players. With two years of very reasonably-priced control, and nearly-unmatched upside (even if he has never quite put it all together), Strasburg would undoubtedly bring the biggest return. But is there enough to be gained to move on from the player who brought excitement back to D.C. baseball? And is the organization ready to look towards a 2016 that does not include any of its three best arms from a year ago?

3) Trade Tanner Roark: I’m not entirely sure why this scenario has not been discussed, but to this point Roark has been masterful and is fairly young and very cheap. If controllable, established arms are so sought after, might Rizzo entice another team to give up a similar-situated position player or a haul of prospects? Then again, perhaps Roark constitutes useful depth, this year and into the future, to say nothing of an immediate replacement for Tyler Clippard in the bullpen.

4) Trade Ian Desmond: Many suggested that the Nationals were interested in trading away Desmond and installing Yunel Escobar at short after acquiring him. Of course, unless such a scenario brought back a new, starting-caliber middle infielder in return, it would not seem to make much sense. But can such a package be found? And, if so, might it make sense to ship out one the organization’s longest-tenured player and most reliable clubhouse presence?

5) Stand pat: Yes, this is an option, and a rather appealing one in my view. With Scherzer’s money comfortably deferred, and Clippard gone to clear extra space, the Opening Day payroll is not too scary to look at. Having six quality starters is something of a luxury, but then again Roark does slot in nicely in the relief corps and would be available (along with Blake Treinen and others) for the inevitable spot duty. If things break right and the club is overflowing with arms come the trade deadline, a deal can always be struck to fill in any other needs that have arisen. In the meantime, they can add another pen arm if the price is right or otherwise head to camp with what they have.

Those are the options. What say you? Responses randomized below.


Pitching Notes: Hamels, Shields, Scherzer, Strasburg

The Rangers and Phillies had “in-depth trade talks” regarding lefty Cole Hamels before Texas pulled the trigger to add Yovani Gallardo, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. The sticking point in those discussions was money, tweets Morosi’s colleague Ken Rosenthal.

Here are some more notes on some of the game’s best starters:

  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski discussed the signing of Max Scherzer with reporters today, and MLive.com’s James Schmehl has the report. Though agent Scott Boras reached out to the club to indicate Scherzer’s interest in exploring a reunion, Dombrowski said that no negotiations occurred. “We never 100 percent closed the door,” he said, “but we’re very happy with the rotation we have.”
  • Perhaps most importantly, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch never fully re-engaged with the idea of keeping Scherzer for the long-haul after the righty famously turned down a $144MM extension offer, Morosi reports. As Morosi rightly notes, neither side can be faulted for pursuing its interests. In the end, Detroit did not go beyond its comfort zone and Scherzer was able to secure a better contract elsewhere.
  • As for the notion that the Tigers could be in the market for James Shields, easily the best arm left on the open market, Dombrowski again emphasized that he was happy with the in-house options and was not looking to add. When asked specifically whether he wanted to comment on or debunk the Shields rumors, Dombrowski said: “I just did, didn’t I?”
  • Of course, the big question now is whether Scherzer’s move to the Nationals will lead his new club to deal from its impressive rotation. While pending free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister have long been talked about as at least hypothetical candidates to move, the Scherzer signing has led to some suggestions that Stephen Strasburg could be dangled. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs discusses what kind of price tag might accompany the star righty, noting that it would likely be high given not only his immense talent but also his reasonable expected salary over the next two years.
  • We have already covered a good bit of Scherzer analysis (see here and here), but ESPN.com’s Buster Olney also weighed in (Insider subscription required). He argues not only that Scherzer does not represent a significant upgrade over the already-deep group of Nats starters, but also notes that dealing away set-up man Tyler Clippard — and, if it occurs, trading other starters or shortstop Ian Desmond — could create significant issues elsewhere on the roster. All said, the long-term obligations in the Scherzer deal are something of an unnecessary risk, Olney suggests.

More Reactions To The Max Scherzer Deal

Here are a few more reactions to Max Scherzer‘s massive new deal with the Nationals:

  • Scherzer’s contract represents another win for Scott Boras, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The market for Scherzer seemed, on the outside, to be rather quiet, with few clear candidates to provide the money Boras was seeking, but he managed to get a huge sum anyway. Boras’ close relationship with the Nationals and their 89-year-old owner, Ted Lerner, likely helped.
  • Sherman also adds that he hears the Nationals intend to keep Jordan Zimmermann, who’s eligible for free agency after the season.
  • Scherzer, clearly one of the game’s best pitchers, is worth $210MM, Dan Szymborski writes for ESPN Insider. Szymborski also writes that the Nationals’ rotation projects to rank among the best of any team so far this century, behind only the 2013 Tigers, the 2002 Diamondbacks, the 2011 Phillies, the 2001 Yankees and the 2004 Red Sox.
  • Scherzer is a great pitcher, but he’s less of an immediate upgrade than one might think, because the Nationals’ rotation was already so good last season, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports writes. The Nationals were already a 96-win team with exceptional starting pitching, and it’s hard to do much better than that, although adding Scherzer now does improve the Nats’ chances of winning the NL East in years beyond 2015. If the Nationals are to get better in the short term, the best way for them to do it might be to add another second baseman.
  • Now that the Nationals have Scherzer in the fold, they have a variety of options available, Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth writes. One obvious possibility would be to trade Zimmermann or Doug Fister, with the recent trade of Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox helping define the market for a strong starting pitcher with one year of control remaining.

Quick Hits: Moncada, Zimmermann

The Giants have already held a private workout for Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. The Giants’ ownership is pushing for the team to get more involved in acquiring Cuban talent, Badler writes, and signing the 19-year-old Moncada, a very highly rated young talent, would be a splashy way to do just that. Of course, such a signing will have to wait for now, as Moncada still needs to be cleared by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Marlins have already been connected to Moncada. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • With Max Scherzer‘s signing and the impending trade of Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers, the Brewers could try to trade for Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmermann, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi writes. The Brewers’ past trades for aces C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke helped key playoff runs, and Morosi thinks Milwaukee might be able to sign Zimmermann long-term, given that Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Lind and Gerardo Parra can all come off the books after 2015.
  • Teams are increasingly avoiding boom-and-bust cycles and are instead trying to build consistent winners, Alden Gonzalez writes for Sports On Earth. Teams are trying to avoid becoming the Phillies, now on the downswing after clinging to their veteran core. Instead, they’re trying to win both now and in the future, avoiding dramatic going-for-it moves as well as full rebuilds. The current postseason structure (with ten teams, including four Wild Card teams) encourages teams to try to get in but discourages making “all-in” moves, because making one’s way through the playoffs involves a high degree of variance. Gonzalez counts only two teams (the Tigers and perhaps the Blue Jays) pushing in all their chips in 2015, with only one (the Phillies) that isn’t really trying to compete. More emblematic, perhaps, of the current environment are the Athletics, whose offseason has blended future-oriented and win-now moves, and the Nationals, who have largely maintained a very strong team but geared their offseason toward sustaining their success beyond 2015.

Reactions To The Max Scherzer Deal

Here’s a roundup of early reactions to the news that the Nationals have agreed to sign Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal.

  • The Nats shouldn’t trade anyone from their loaded rotation, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. Pitchers get hurt frequently, and the Nationals don’t need to deal a pitcher to fix a hole elsewhere — they’re strong all over the diamond and they have a good farm system.
  • Scott Boras has said he often negotiates huge deals with owners, not GMs, and it’s unclear whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner was involved in negotiating the Scherzer deal or how GM Mike Rizzo might now plan if he did, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Nationals have discussed trades involving Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg throughout the offseason, Rosenthal notes. Now that they’ve added Scherzer, though, they could just keep accumulating talent, perhaps adding another Boras client in Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano for their bullpen.
  • The Nationals might now be a “super-team,” Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The Nationals’ position players already projected for more WAR than any other NL team, and Scherzer’s signing will move them past the Dodgers for the most projected pitcher WAR as well.
  • The Red Sox can still use an ace and would be able to pay the high price necessary to acquire Zimmermann, Strasburg or Doug Fister, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. It would perhaps be more likely that the Red Sox would acquire Zimmermann or Fister, given that Strasburg has two years of control left and would therefore cost more in a trade.

Max Scherzer Close To Deal With Nationals

9:08pm: The deal is “close” but will not be completed tonight, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post tweets.

6:54pm: Scherzer is “very close” to signing with the Nationals, although the deal is not yet done, a source tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (via Twitter).

6:10pm: Max Scherzer is talking with the Nationals and one other team about a seven-year contract, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, on Twitter, categorizes the negotiations as “close.” Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweeted earlier the impression around baseball is the Nationals will sign Scherzer, but it was unclear whether a deal was imminent. Tigers President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski denies Detroit is the other team, telling Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press their pursuit of Scherzer is still inactive (Twitter). The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweets the Yankees are not the other team and Rosenthal reports the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers are also not in on Scherzer (Twitter links). The Angels aren’t the mystery team, either, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets, and neither are the Giants or Cardinals, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter links).

Agent Scott Boras has said it would be an ownership-level decision on whether a team will sign Scherzer and that it could be a “two-step process” – ink Scherzer and then trade another member of their rotation. Barry Svlurga of the Washington Post sees Boras pitching Nationals owner Ted Lerner the notion of signing Scherzer to win the World Series in 2015 knowing the salaries of impending free agents Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span will be coming off the books for 2016 (Twitter links).

The Nationals have engaged multiple teams over the past few weeks in trade talks for Zimmermann, tweets FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. If Scherzer signs, Zimmermann is the most likely trade candidate; but, if an acceptable offer for Zimmermann does not materialize, sources tell Morosi the Nationals will look to move Stephen Strasburg (Twitter links).

Washington, amidst reports the club has not had significant extension talks with Desmond, has discussed its All-Star shortstop with other teams, most notably the failed three-way trade involving the Mets and Rays. The Nationals also have not re-engaged Fister in extension talks since last spring and are said to be willing to listen to any trade proposals for the right-hander.