Even after a 15-5 rout of the Diamondbacks today, the Nationals’ record is just 33-38, leaving the club with a lot of ground to make up in the standings. Washington is 8.5 games back of Atlanta in the NL East, and six games behind the Phillies for the last wild card slot, and barring a big turn-around in the coming weeks, speculation will only increase that the Nats could become sellers at the trade deadline.
Near-term free agents like Sean Doolittle, Howie Kendrick, and even star slugger Anthony Rendon have drawn a lot of the trade buzz, though the biggest move the Nationals could make is offering up ace Max Scherzer. Such a trade doesn’t appear to be in the cards, however, as GM Mike Rizzo told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) that “we’re certainly not thinking about that right now.”
“We control the best pitcher in baseball for 2 1/2 more years – three playoff runs,” Rizzo said. “[Scherzer is] extremely well-priced. If you look at his contract, he’s extremely, extremely well-priced. We would have to command something that would be franchise-altering to consider moving him.”
Scherzer is officially owed $142.5MM through the end of the 2021 season, though $105MM of that sum will be paid out in deferrals from 2022-28. As Rosenthal mentions, Washington could also include money in a hypothetical trade in order to lessen the $30MM annual luxury tax hit attached to Scherzer’s deal.
The inclusion of the “right now” qualifier in Rizzo’s statement perhaps leaves the door slightly open for a trade, though it probably leans closer to due diligence rather than any hint towards moving Scherzer. After all, while Rizzo said the Nationals are still hoping for a midseason run, “you also have to be flexible and open-minded enough to know when you have to make changes and go in a different direction.”
Dealing Scherzer, however, would be the type of move that doesn’t only change “direction,” but perhaps sets a new course overall. The Nats have yet to abandon the idea of contending even in 2019, let alone in 2020, and trading a front-of-the-rotation arm like Scherzer doesn’t seem like the type of deal a club looking to contend next season would make, regardless of the huge return such a deal would inevitably bring. Trading a perennial Cy Young candidate and obtaining the type of win-now pieces necessary to reload for another crack at the NL East in 2020 would be an awfully difficult needle to thread, especially when simply keeping Scherzer is such an obvious boon to the rotation.
Between this factor and the personal ties between Rizzo and Scherzer, a trade seems unlikely at best. “I’ve never been closer to a player in my career. I drafted him in Arizona,” said Rizzo, who was formerly the Diamondbacks’ scouting director. “I watched him grow up. We went hard after him (in free agency). We made him a promise that if you’re signing for seven years and you’re deferring all this money to help us win championships, we’re going to do everything we can to win.”