June 28: In an interview with Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post, Boras struck a somewhat different tone: “When players are traded, and you refer to contract amendments, it does not necessarily mean an extension. It could be any amendment that gives him a reason to exercise his rights. That’s up to the player at the time. Max and I have never discussed the subject.”
Moreover, Boras noted that the Nationals’ recent surge in the standings renders any such trade speculation largely “moot,” as the team now increasingly looks like a potential deadline buyer (or, at least, one that won’t sell off major assets).
June 25: With a little more than a month to go before the July 30 trade deadline, some enterprising teams figure to reach out to the Nationals to gauge the availability of ace Max Scherzer. There are myriad roadblocks that stand in the way of a midseason deal, though. Among them: the full no-trade rights granted to players (like Scherzer) who have ten-plus years of MLB service, the past five with the same team. The star hurler’s agent, Scott Boras, suggested Scherzer wouldn’t waive those 10-and-5 rights to facilitate a midseason deal unless he and the acquiring team agreed on a contract extension.
“The reality of it is (a trade) is going to have to lead to something,” Boras told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, clarifying that “something” would have to be an extension. Scherzer is entering the final season of his seven-year, $210MM free agent deal with the Nationals. That pact came with a series of deferrals, with Washington on the hook for successive $15MM payments through the end of 2028. Determining how much of the deferred money would fall on the Nationals versus any potential acquiring team would make a Scherzer trade something of an endeavor to begin with, and the player’s demand for an extension on top of that only further complicates matters.
Scherzer will turn 37 years old before deadline day. Teams are typically wary of investing in pitchers of that age, but he’s obviously no ordinary pitcher. Scherzer’s a three-time Cy Young award winner who looks as good as ever. Through 14 starts this year, he’s worked to a pristine 2.19 ERA/2.73 SIERA. Scherzer’s among the top ten qualifiers in both categories, as well as in strikeout rate (36.1%) and strikeout/walk rate differential (30.3 percentage points).
Justin Verlander, Scherzer’s former teammate, secured a two-year, $66MM extension from the Astros in March 2019. That deal didn’t go into effect until 2020, Verlander’s age-37 season. It came on the heels of a dominant 2018 effort that’s not all that dissimilar from Scherzer’s performance this year. Verlander’s deal was signed a full season in advance of free agency, though, not months-long into an elite platform campaign (although he would go on to post dominant results in 2019 after signing the extension).
With Scherzer halfway through another incredible season, he and Boras can justifiably set their sights higher than Verlander’s mark. Indeed, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently ranked the superstar righty the game’s #10 impending free agent, suggesting he might command a three-year deal despite his age.
Any discussion about Scherzer waiving his 10-and-5 rights might only be academic, anyways. The Nationals have won nine of their last ten games to vault into second place in the National League East. At 36-36, Washington sits just three and a half games back of the division-leading Mets. The Nationals haven’t traditionally been a team that likes to trade away top players midseason, and their recent resurgence has them right in the thick of the playoff mix. Barring a dramatic drop-off over the next couple weeks, general manager Mike Rizzo and the rest of the front office look far more likely to add help to the big league roster rather than entertain offers on players like Scherzer.