Who wouldn’t want Max Scherzer?
The Nationals right-hander is a future Hall of Famer, and despite turning 37 on Tuesday, he remains one of the best pitchers in the game. Plus, he’s a legendary competitor with loads of postseason experience and a championship ring on his finger.
With the pitching market looking thin ahead of Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, Scherzer may be the best available option for teams searching for rotation help. His status as a rental means the financial commitment should not be too onerous, although his full no-trade rights also complicate the picture and give Scherzer control over his destination.
Still, it’s no wonder that interest in Scherzer is “immense,” according to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, who added that “about 14 teams” have called Washington about a potential trade. So with the Nats reportedly looking to lock down a buyer within the next couple of days, let’s break down the candidates and find the best possible home for Mad Max.
29-19: The non-contenders
We can pretty much rule out any of the 11 teams, not counting the Nationals, who entered Tuesday with playoff odds below 3%, according to FanGraphs.
18-15: The fringe contenders
The Cardinals, Braves, Reds and Angels all began Tuesday with playoff odds of no more than 10 percent. Each absolutely could use Scherzer. But given their positions, is it likely that any of these teams wins a bidding war for a rental player? Probably not. If there’s one team to watch, it might be the Angels, who have the motivation, the urgent need and reside on the West Coast, where MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Scherzer “strongly prefers” to go, if he is to approve a deal.
14-13: The playoff locks with elite rotations
The White Sox and Brewers already have MLB’s two best starting staffs, with both teams featuring at least three pitchers any team would feel good about starting in Game 1 of a playoff series. Add in the fact that they have more or less locked up division titles, and there would seem to be little reason to go after Scherzer.
12-11: The NL East rivals
Theoretically, the division-leading Mets and second-place Phillies could be fits. But a big trade within a division can be fraught. In fact, Feinsand reported Tuesday that there is “zero” chance of a Max-Mets match.
The uphill climbers
They’re the Yankees, so you can’t count them out, and Scherzer certainly would be an upgrade. With that said, the club is scuffling and resides on the outside of the playoff picture, so investing heavily in a rental seems questionable. Plus, sources told Jayson Stark of The Athletic that Scherzer is “unlikely” to approve a deal to the Bronx.
Well, they are on the West Coast. Seattle has been a great story, even if the playoff odds (6.3% entering Tuesday) don’t buy in, and there’s an argument for capitalizing and going all out to end MLB’s longest postseason drought. Still, it may make more sense, for a team on the rise, to go after trade targets with additional years of control beyond 2021.
8: Blue Jays
The need is there, but Toronto is lagging in the playoff chase. Like the Mariners, the Blue Jays’ best days are still ahead, making a controllable acquisition a better bet. There’s also the question of whether Scherzer would approve a trade north of the border.
The best of the non-West
7: Red Sox
Given Scherzer’s reported preference for the West Coast, we have to downgrade each of the other contenders a bit. Boston also already has a veteran ace (Chris Sale) set to join its rotation as he returns from Tommy John surgery and has other areas where it could look to improve.
Houston has traded for Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke in recent summers and went to the World Series both times. A third trade for a future Hall of Fame pitcher also would reunite Scherzer with manager Dusty Baker. It could work -- Scherzer would immediately be Houston’s No. 1 starter -- but is the bullpen a greater need?
Tampa Bay had enough pitching to feel comfortable trading away Rich Hill, but with Tyler Glasnow’s health a question mark, the rotation still lacks a traditional ace. (Of course, the Rays aren’t a traditional team). The defending AL champs already showed a willingness to deal from their enviable prospect depth for a veteran rental (Nelson Cruz), so they might as well go after Scherzer, too.
The three-headed monster
With A.J. Preller in charge, be ready for anything. The Padres rotation has been surprisingly mediocre in 2021, despite its big names, but San Diego still might have the least glaring need for Scherzer of the NL West’s three likely playoff teams. Then again, it also has the most aggressive front office.
It’s shocking that they’re in this position, leading the NL West, but here they are. The stellar rotation is one big reason, but Scherzer would be a hedge against one or more of Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood coming back to Earth. For a surprise team that already has a bunch of pending free agents, adding one more wouldn’t hurt, especially if San Francisco ends up in the high-pressure Wild Card Game.
Dustin May is out for the season, Clayton Kershaw is still working his way back and Trevor Bauer is on administrative leave, with no return in sight. This is still a talented group of starters, but it’s thin, with L.A. having to push David Price back into a starting role, while also turning to top prospect Josiah Gray, who might not be fully ready. Scherzer would significantly boost the Dodgers’ chances of overcoming the Giants in the division and becoming the first team since 2000 to repeat as World Series champs. The appeal for Scherzer also would be obvious, as he could team up with two other Cy Young Award winners in Kershaw and Price, who was briefly a rotation-mate with the 2014 Tigers.
The best fit
Is this the most likely destination for Scherzer? Perhaps not. But it would make a ton of sense. While the A’s entered Tuesday five games out in the AL West, they still need to hold off the Mariners, Yankees, Blue Jays and any other challengers in the Wild Card race. Then they would have to get past a win-or-go-home Wild Card Game -- which they previously lost in 2014, ‘18 and ‘19.
What’s the best way to improve your chances in such a scenario? Add a true ace. With all due respect to an Oakland rotation that has been quite strong in 2021, led by All-Star Chris Bassitt, things would look quite a bit different with Scherzer lined up for that start. In the past, this front office has shown a willingness to go for it and has made several significant trades with Nats GM Mike Rizzo along the way. How about making one more and ending that 31-year absence from the World Series?