A View from Studio 3: Scherzer must deliver title
So Max Scherzer is headed to Washington, D.C. He gets his $210 million from the Nationals.
Scherzer won a $144 million game of chicken that he played with the Tigers. He gets to pitch for a contender. Better yet, Scherzer gets to pitch in the National League. The 30-year-old righty has a good shot to be the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002 to strike out more than 300 batters in a season. This is all great.
But unless Scherzer helps the Nationals win their first World Series title, this signing will be a bust. The pressure on the entire organization is immense. You could say that no other team will be feeling the 2015 summer heat like the Nats. A weird spot for sure, considering that this franchise hasn't been to the NL Championship Series since 1981 when it was located in Montreal.
On paper, the Nationals' starting rotation is as talented and as deep as any in either league. Scherzer (one of the games smartest and approachable players ) joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzlaez and Doug Fister. Barring a trade, this group has a legitimate shot to go down as one of the best of all-time. Beyond the rotation, it's tough to find any holes in the lineup or bullpen. The Nats are as complete as any team in MLB.
Las Vegas has installed the Nationals as the favorites to win the World Series. Yours truly has installed them as favorites to be scrutinized nine ways til Sunday by the national media if they fail to reach the Fall Classic.
In ranking the clubs that will face the most pressure this coming season, I'd have the Dodgers right behind Washington. Los Angeles hasn't appeared in a World Series since 1988, although they've recently come close a few times. When Magic Johnson is the face of an ownership group that spent around a quarter billion dollars in payroll last season, pressure is not only expected but welcomed. This offseason the Dodgers have undergone a facelift Phyllis Diller would be proud of.
From the front office to the playing field it's the kind of makeover usually reserved for someone in the witness protection program. With Clayton Kershaw fronting the rotation and Yasiel Puig making headlines for many reasons, there is no way for this Dodgers club to avoid the spotlight.
Scherzer's former club, the Tigers, must also be feeling the heat. Since divisional play began in 1969, Detroit is one of only three American League teams to reach the playoffs four straight years without winning a World Series title. Ugh. (The 1995-1999 Indians and the 2000-2003 Athletics are the other two.) The Tigers' window is closing.
On the pitching side, Scherzer is gone and Justin Verlander appears to be past his prime. David Price has one year remaining before free agency. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are still elite hitters, but how much longer can they carry a team? The time is now. The situation is urgent.
How about the Angels? After compiling more wins (98) than any team in either league, The Halos bowed out of the ALDS without a whimper. That's not good enough. Just reaching the playoffs is not going to cut it in 2015. With Most Valuable Player Mike Trout producing offense at an historic pace and Albert Pujols still presenting a dangerous presence in the middle of the order, there is no time to waste.
If Josh Hamilton has anything left in the tank, the Angels must take advantage immediately. As is the case with the owners of all teams mentioned in this column, Arte Moreno has provided the cash, the players must provide him with a title.
Don't think for a minute the Cubs will get a free pass in 2015 just because most experts predict great things in '16 and beyond. While it's unlikely they'll go from under .500 to World Series Champions the internal expectations are real. You don't spend $155 million on Jon Lester and $25 million on Joe Maddon just to keep up with the Jones's. You do it to win a title for the first time in over 100 years.
Maddon and slugger Anthony Rizzo have predicted the Cubs will reach the postseason in 2015. I'll take their word for it. For the first time in a long time, we'll all be watching.