PHILADELPHIA -- With the Nationals dropping 11 of their last 14 contests entering Tuesday's game against the Phillies, it's no surprise that Max Scherzer's name has been churning through the rumor mill leading up to Friday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.
Scherzer's on an expiring contract and is a three-time Cy Young Award winner. He has a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts this season. And, though he turned 37 years old on Tuesday, Scherzer has 22 career appearances across seven trips to the postseason, including winning the 2019 World Series with the Nationals.
Scherzer seems like a prime target for contenders looking to add, but making a push to acquire Washington's ace is not that easy.
Putting aside the fact that Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday due to right triceps discomfort (manager Dave Martinez said Scherzer is on track to start Thursday's finale in Philadelphia), there are two major obstacles that would need to be cleared for a potential deal: Scherzer's no-trade rights and his unique contract situation.
Let's start with the first one. As a player with at least 10 years of MLB service, including five consecutive season with the Nationals, Scherzer has the right to veto any trade. That said, it seems that Scherzer's veto power would have more influence on where he would get traded than if he were to be moved.
After all, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that while it remains to be seen whether Scherzer will get dealt at all, the right-hander "strongly prefers the West Coast" if he's going to waive his no-trade clause. That wouldn't limit the Nationals too much, given that the Giants, Dodgers and Padres (all of whom rumors have tied to Scherzer at various points this week) are locked in a three-way bottle near the top of the NL West -- and all three entered Tuesday at least six games clear of a postseason spot.
With his no-trade clause out of the way, the next matter to work through would be Scherzer's contract. While he is in the final year of the seven-year, $210 million pact he signed in January 2015, Scherzer's situation is far more convoluted than that of the typical "rental" player.
The reason for that is because instead of simply paying out $30 million each year of the deal, Scherzer's contract was structured in a way that essentially paid him $15 million a year from 2015-28. Furthermore, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that this year's $15 million installment is actually part of a $50 million signing bonus, half of which has already been paid, with the other half due in September. Any team that acquired Scherzer would not need to pay that $7.5 million in September, as a signing bonus is entirely the Nationals' responsibility.
Of course, that does not mean any team can acquire Scherzer for free. Instead, a new club would be on the hook for approximately one-third of the $35 million remaining on Scherzer's 2021 salary, according to Rosenthal.
That said, the more important number for a potential suitor may be Scherzer's average annual value (AAV), as that's what gets applied to a club's payroll in relation to the competitive balance tax (CBT). In other words, Scherzer would increase a team's total salary by approximately $10 million (the remaining one-third of his $30 million AAV). For what it's worth, the Dodgers are already projected to surpass the highest of the three CBT thresholds, and thus, they are one team unlikely to be deterred in that regard.