6:19 pm: The Angels are also still in the mix for Scherzer, according to Heyman.
4:40 pm: Other teams are indeed still trying to top the Padres’ offer for Scherzer, says Rosenthal. While Washington and San Diego have “essentially” agreed on the framework of a trade, the various obstacles involved with Scherzer’s situation (particularly his no-trade rights) continue to loom over the discussions.
3:58 pm: While the Padres are heavily involved in the market for Scherzer, Heyman reiterates that other clubs (perhaps including the Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox) still believe they have a chance to land the ace.
3:24 pm: The teams have agreed on the players involved, pending medical reviews, according to Jim Bowden of the Athletic. Scherzer still needs to waive his no-trade rights, although recent reports suggested he’d be willing to do so to move to one of the NL West contenders.
3:12 pm: The Padres are nearing a deal to acquire Max Scherzer, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (Twitter link). Jon Morosi of MLB.com had reported the Friars’ efforts to land Scherzer were “intensifying” moments before Rosenthal. The deal is not yet complete, cautions Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Assuming the deal eventually crosses the finish line, it’ll be the latest in a line of impact starting pitching acquisitions for San Diego that dates back to last summer. Within the past twelve months, the Padres have acquired Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. They’re now on the verge of landing perhaps their most notable pitcher of all, a three-time Cy Young award winner who started for the National League in this year’s All-Star game.
Scherzer is one of the best pitchers of his generation, and the future Hall of Famer has continued to pitch at a level close to peak form. He’s tossed 111 innings across nineteen starts, working to a 2.76 ERA/3.59 FIP. He’s given up a few home runs (1.46 HR/9), but Scherzer’s strikeout and walk numbers are still among the game’s best. The eight-time All-Star has punched out 34.3% of batters faced while handing out free passes to a meager 6.5% of opponents. Among starters with 50+ innings pitched, only Jacob deGrom, Tyler Glasnow, Patrick Sandoval and Shane Bieber have generated swinging strikes at a higher clip than Scherzer’s 16.5% mark.
It’s the continuation of what has been a remarkable tenure in Washington. Signed to a seven-year, $210MM deal over the 2014-15 offseason, the right-hander entered today’s outing with a 2.80 ERA/2.91 FIP across 1223 innings for the Nats. It proved to be one of the most successful free agent investments in recent memory. Scherzer won back-to-back NL Cy Young awards in 2016-17. He was selected to the All-Star game six times, with the lone exception due to the cancelation of last year’s festivities. And Scherzer was integral to the Nationals’ 2019 World Series title, tossing 30 frames of 2.40 ERA ball during that year’s postseason run.
With Scherzer scheduled to reach free agency again this offseason, the Washington front office was faced with a decision — hold onto Scherzer in hopes of making a playoff push, or move him to a contender for an influx of young talent? For a while, it seemed as though the Nats would play well enough that keeping Scherzer was the obvious choice. They’ve struggled coming out of the All-Star Break, though, with a sweep at the hands of the Orioles last weekend seemingly sealing the team’s fate as sellers.
Washington sits at 47-54, fourth place in the National League East and seven games back of the division-leading Mets. They entered play today with just a 1.1% chance of reaching the postseason, in the estimation of FanGraphs. Nationals brass hasn’t traditionally been keen on trading away star players. Still, the deficit became too much to reasonably expect to overcome, particularly with Stephen Strasburg officially done for the season and star shortstop Trea Turner now out for the next-week plus after testing positive for COVID-19.
Successful and beloved as Scherzer has been in Washington, it became apparent in recent days that a trade would be in the cards. Such a move isn’t without complications though, most notably Scherzer’s full no-trade rights as a 10-and-5 player (one with ten years of major league service, the past five of which have come with the same team).
Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, suggested earlier in the summer that the pitcher could require some form of contractual inducement (perhaps even an extension) to approve any deal. He later walked back those comments, though, and recent reports suggested Scherzer was willing to approve a move to certain destinations — particularly those on the West Coast. Obviously, the Padres would fit that bill, but the Nationals were still motivated to work out a deal well in advance of tomorrow’s 4:00 pm EST deadline in order to sort that situation out.
There’s also the matter of finances to consider. Scherzer’s playing out the year on a significant $35MM salary, a little less than $12MM of which remains to be paid. That money is entirely deferred until 2028, part of a broader trend throughout the term of his deal. While Scherzer is an impending free agent, he’ll still be owed $15MM every year from 2022-28 in deferrals. It’s not precisely clear how the Nationals and Padres will divide those payments (assuming the trade is completed), although the majority of those obligations will certainly be paid by the Nationals.
The Padres’ series of big-ticket trade and free agent acquisitions in recent years has pushed their payroll to unprecedented heights for the organization. The Friars are reportedly a little above the $210MM luxury tax threshold. Scherzer’s prorated luxury tax hit for the remainder of the season is right around $10MM. If the Friars pick up the remainder of his contractual obligations, they’ll certainly wind up above the luxury threshold, although previous reports suggested ownership was willing to greenlight such a move to accommodate an impactful summer acquisition.
San Diego would be a first-time payor of the competitive balance tax. That’d subject the franchise to a 20% tax on any overage between $210MM and $230MM (an approximate $2MM penalty if they assume Scherzer’s remaining deal). Should the Friars push their luxury number above $230MM, they’d pay a 32% tax on expenditures between that number and $250MM.
Either way, the overage penalties are an exceedingly small price to pay for a pitcher of Scherzer’s caliber. The Padres entered play today in third place in the NL West, 5.5 games back of the Giants. They’re 3.5 behind the Dodgers for the top Wild Card spot but five games clear of the Reds for the NL’s final postseason spot. The Friars seem likely to make the playoffs in some capacity. If acquired, Scherzer would be an option to start a potential Wild Card game.
If San Diego gets into an NLDS, a playoff rotation involving Scherzer, Darvish, and Musgrove would be capable of shutting down the best opposing lineups. That’s without even accounting for Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Ryan Weathers or Chris Paddack, who could be options to start a fourth game and/or work multiple innings of relief.
The Padres’ acquisition of Scherzer (if completed) would also have huge implications on the trade market for other top starting pitchers — most notably Minnesota’s José Berríos. San Diego was reportedly heavily involved in the Berríos market in recent days. A Scherzer pickup would seemingly take them out of that mix, but the other two NL West contenders are among the teams known to be interested in the Twins’ righty.
The Dodgers and Giants probably won’t feel obligated to up their offers on Berríos specifically because the Padres are on the verge of a Scherzer deal. Front offices don’t tend to be that reactionary to division rivals’ moves in this day and age. But both those teams were also speculated as potential fits for Scherzer, and his landing elsewhere could leave Berríos as the only true top-of-the-rotation arm still available in the next 24 hours.