That’s how long D.C. sports fans waited in between World Series titles. During that time the city watched as its hometown team left not once but twice, finally getting a franchise back for good in 2005 only to see the Nationals go through a lengthy rebuild. When they did win it all in 2019, surviving five elimination games and orchestrating comebacks in every one, the pent-up emotion for a fanbase that had never seen victory like this before was released at last.
On Monday, Max Scherzer, one of the Nationals’ biggest stars from their 2019 title run, reportedly signed a three-year, $130 million deal with the New York Mets. It’s a signing that has to sting for Nationals fans, who will now be forced to watch Scherzer face their team in a rivals' uniform a couple times a year while Washington attempts to rebuild its roster and compete once again.
However, fans shouldn’t let Scherzer’s presence in Queens tarnish the impact he left on both the franchise and the community itself. Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals in 2015 and he was the rare mega-free agent to be worth every cent.
All he did during his time in Washington was win two Cy Young awards and place among the top five in voting for four others. Scherzer led the NL in strikeouts three times and twice paced it in wins. He threw two no-hitters, a 20-strikeout game and a seven-inning gem with a broken nose and black eye that embodied his personality as a gamer, a legendary competitor.
During the 2019 playoffs, he went 3-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 37 strikeouts as the Nationals won every game he appeared in. He was their World Series Game 7 starter despite gutting through a neck injury that was so painful he couldn’t dress himself three days prior.
“I don’t want to look at this as a negative thing,” Scherzer said after making his final start with the Nationals in July. “I’d rather look at this as a positive thing. Look, I signed a seven-year deal here and won a World Series. The first thing I said when I signed was, ‘I’m here to win.’ And we won. We won a World Series so that’s a lifelong dream come true and something that I’ll always be so proud of.”
Nationals fans know what it’s like to lose a star to a division rival. Bryce Harper turned down an offer from Washington to sign a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies ahead of that 2019 season. He was booed in his return to Nationals Park and the tune hasn’t changed since. So what’s different here? Scherzer left with the job finished, giving D.C. sports fans their first World Series in nearly a century while paving a path to Cooperstown in dominant fashion. It's what this game is all about.
It may not have been entirely Harper’s fault, but when he departed for Philadelphia the Nationals had never made it past the NLDS. The fanbase still needed a championship and the No. 1 pick heralded as the next LeBron James of baseball had failed to deliver one.
Scherzer also didn’t leave as a free agent. He was traded along with Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline in a deal that kickstarted the Nationals’ rebuild by landing them top prospects Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, among others. Washington will continue to reap the benefits of signing Scherzer for the next half-decade through the players acquired in that trade.
When the 37-year-old Scherzer did hit free agency, he accepted an offer from the Mets where his sanity might have come into question had he turned it down. Scherzer will be making an average of $43.3 million per year over that deal, shattering Gerrit Cole’s AAV record of $36 million with the New York Yankees. He even has an opt out after the second year, giving him another chance to return to free agency should he be unhappy with his situation in New York after 2023.
Expecting Scherzer to turn down an offer of that magnitude just because it came from an NL East rival is ludicrous. Sure, he’ll be pitching for the Mets. It’s not going to feel good when Scherzer does what he does up there on the mound. He might win another award or lead them to the playoffs. No one is certainly obligated to root for him when he’s pitching for an opposing team.
But Scherzer has already done more in Washington than he will ever be able to accomplish with the Mets. Fans should still hope to see the Curly W on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque and a statue of him at Nationals Park. Yet even if by some dramatic shift in circumstance neither of those things happen, the 2019 World Series flag will always be flying over Half Street. And few players gave more than Scherzer to put it there.
“I put it on the line every single time,” Scherzer said in July. “I’ll give you everything I got no matter what the situation is…You wanna go out there and do your best. I think that’s something I hope that everybody appreciates and my teammates as well. When we are dealing with all this, all my teammates as well have responded extremely well of going out there and competing, playing as a team despite all the stuff that’s going on all around us. So that’s what I remember.”