The Nationals won their first-ever World Series title in 2019, but success has eluded the franchise since then. Washington was unable to seriously defend its title during the shortened 2020 season, as it missed the playoffs with a 26-34 record, and the team has stumbled to a 7-9 mark this year. While it is still very early, the Nationals’ odds of making the postseason in 2021 have already dropped from 22.4 percent to 15.2 since Opening Day, per FanGraphs.
The Nats have ample time to get on track (they have won two in a row), but what if they aren’t in contention around the July 30 trade deadline? Would general manager Mike Rizzo sell off any notable pieces? If Rizzo would be willing to do so (his in-season trade history suggests he wouldn’t be), he’d have a coveted trade chip in pending free agent and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
Although he was effective last year, Scherzer was not his typical elite self. However, the soon-to-be 37-year-old is back in superb form this season, having thrown 25 innings of 1.80 ERA/2.79 SIERA ball with a 35.9 percent strikeout rate and a 4.3 percent walk rate. His K-BB percentage (31.5) and swinging-strike rate (15.7 percent) rank in the top 10 among major league starters.
With Scherzer dominating again, both Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com have recently tackled the possibility of the Nationals trading the fiery right-hander this summer. As they note, there are some complicating factors that could scuttle a deal. For one, because Scherzer has 10-and-5 rights, he would be able to veto any trade. There’s also the matter of his $35MM salary – which could limit his market to higher spending teams – not to mention the unconventional structure of his contract. Even though the deal only runs through this season, the Nationals are on the hook for annual payments of $15MM to Scherzer from 2015-28. An acquiring team could take on at least some of that, though it wouldn’t increase his value in a trade.
The deadline is still three-plus months away, but if Washington doesn’t rebound or extend Scherzer by then, he’ll be popular in trade rumors. How do you expect this situation to play out? Will Scherzer stay put through the season or end 2021 in a different uniform?
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