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Sequel to Verlander deal? Keep an eye on this guy

@MikeLupica
June 13, 2019

There are six weeks left before the July 31 Trade Deadline. And between now and then, you will hear about players, including big players, who might be moved this summer. Every contender is looking to make the kind of trade that the Astros made for Justin Verlander in 2017, the

There are six weeks left before the July 31 Trade Deadline. And between now and then, you will hear about players, including big players, who might be moved this summer. Every contender is looking to make the kind of trade that the Astros made for Justin Verlander in 2017, the one that changed them from contenders into World Series champs. It is the dream in-season trade every contender is looking to make, every year. Following all the speculation about this name being moved, or that name, is part of the fun of being a fan. Every year.

But there’s only one guy this year who has the chance to be the kind of game-changer that Verlander was after he left the Tigers, and it happens to be one of his old teammates in Detroit:

Max Scherzer.

Now you know this doesn’t mean Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is going to move Scherzer, who has two years left on his contract after this one. The Nationals were never as bad as they looked earlier in the season. They entered Thursday’s games at 31-36 -- which doesn’t look like much until you remember they were 16-25 not long ago and had a bullpen that looked as if it couldn’t get you out, or me. That record puts them seven games in the loss column behind the Braves and six games behind the Phillies in the National League East, and still looking up at the Mets. Is it possible the Nationals could get hot and make a run in the division -- which gives them a better chance at October than an NL Wild Card spot -- and get back into things? Yeah, it is. But at this point, it still doesn’t seem probable.

It’s why it might be probable that Rizzo, whatever he might be saying, might consider moving Scherzer before he becomes a 10-and-5 guy and can veto any trade the Nationals might consider making after this season. Rizzo might consider doing that even though Scherzer is still one of the true aces of the sport, despite a 4-5 record (2.83 ERA, 126 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings). And if a contender -- Yankees, Astros, someone else -- does bowl Rizzo over with players and prospects, Scherzer will get the chance to do for his new team what Verlander did for the Astros. And by the way? Verlander might get his own chance to put the Astros over the top again, because they are loaded again and they always seem to have a farm system as deep as the ocean.

And you know which team might offer just about anything under the sun to get Scherzer, if Rizzo really is listening in July? The New York Yankees. Know why? Because they will always believe that they would have been the ones to win the World Series in 2017 -- and their first since ’09 -- if they had somehow gotten Verlander instead of the Astros. When it was all on the line in the American League Championship Series, when the Yankees went back to Minute Maid Park ahead three games to two, Verlander stuffed the Yankees in Game 6, and then Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers gave the Yankees just three hits on their way to shutting them down in Game 7. The Astros went to win the World Series from there.

Now here we are, two years later. The Astros are back at the top of the AL West. The Yankees came into Thursday’s games a half-game ahead of the Rays at the top of the AL East, and they are fully aware that if they make it back to October, Verlander might be waiting for them again. He’s still an ace of the sport. He struck out 15 Brewers on Wednesday night with 15 swing-and-misses. He was 34 when the Tigers traded him. Scherzer doesn’t turn 35 until four days before the Trade Deadline. Verlander was 10-8, 3.82 ERA, 176 K’s in 172 innings when the Tigers (who were a whole lot worse that year than the Nationals are now) moved him. If you play out what Scherzer might do over the next six weeks, his numbers might not be so different from what Verlander’s were in ’17, even though he’ll have more strikeouts to innings pitched.

You can see, just off what Verlander did to the Brewers on Wednesday, that he hasn’t gone anywhere.

Might Scherzer? We’ll see.

If you are a Yankees fan, how can you not believe that Scherzer doesn’t finally put your team over the top? He would be the kind of true ace in October that the Yankees haven’t had since CC Sabathia in 2009, the last time the Yankees won it all. Are Yankees fans aware that this is likely going to be the 27th straight winning season for their team? They are. But that is not what the Yankees sell. They sell the World Series. As much as Yankees fans like to talk about the 27 World Series their team has won across its extraordinary history, their fans are a lot more interested in No. 28, and in not going this entire decade without winning one.

You will hear about other starting pitchers over the next month and a half. Madison Bumganer, Max Muncy’s bestie, will be one of them. But even though he’s still just 29, Bumgarner isn’t what he was in San Francisco. He isn’t Scherzer. Nor is any other starter who might actually be available in July.

Max Scherzer: Another ex-Tiger who could change everything for somebody. Might not get the chance, of course. Still no indication that Nats might not move him. But this summer, two years after Verlander, there’s Scherzer’s name and everybody else’s.

Maybe in New York most of all.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.