The Nationals’ trade of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday signaled an end of an era for Washington, but it didn’t necessarily mean Scherzer’s time in the nation’s capital was up for good.
Set to hit free agency this winter, Scherzer is only going to be in Los Angeles for a couple months before he’s back on the open market for the first time since the 2014-15 offseason. After he spent seven of the most successful years of his career in D.C. — a stint that included winning the World Series in 2019 — the Nationals could still sign him back in free agency if mutual interest exists.
However, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, who was Washington’s GM from 2005-09, reported Saturday that Scherzer “was not going to re-sign” this offseason, which played a role in their decision to trade him at the deadline. Though that doesn’t rule out the possibility of Scherzer returning, it certainly dampens expectations.
Despite turning 37 years old last week, Scherzer is still as effective as ever. The three-time Cy Young winner made 19 starts for the Nationals this season and posted a 2.76 ERA and 0.892 WHIP with 147 strikeouts, 28 walks and 18 home runs allowed in 111 innings. Deferrals aside, he averaged a $30 million salary per year in Washington and likely will command a similar price tag for his next contract.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have over $58 million in 2022 salary alone tied up in the contracts for Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Strasburg has made just seven starts over the last two seasons and underwent thoracic outlet surgery Wednesday, forcing him to finish the season on the IL for the second-straight year. Corbin has a 5.36 ERA since the start of the 2020 season and his slider no longer generates the spin that used to make it one of the best pitches in baseball.
Already planning to step back next year and give younger players more opportunities for playing time, the Nationals don’t have the look of a team that’s going to invest in another substantial contract for the top of their rotation. They hope that prospects Josiah Gray, Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry will all be regular members of their rotation in the near future. Scherzer’s presence would block a spot that could be filled by a young arm.
It isn’t impossible to envision a scenario where Scherzer returns, but the Nationals’ new direction doesn’t appear to leave much room for him in D.C. moving forward.