Every year a star player is mentioned as a candidate to be dealt before the Major League Baseball trade deadline, despite the odds significantly favoring them staying put. Last year it was New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom; this year it’s Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.
For what it’s worth, the thinking behind the Nationals entertaining trades for Scherzer has some merit to it. Currently 37-40, they’re in third place in the National League East and putting together another subpar season. After not re-signing outfielder Bryce Harper in the offseason and still not agreeing to an extension with third baseman Anthony Rendon, the argument could be made that the Nationals would be wise to endure a full-blown rebuild.
However, despite the reasons in favor of the Nationals pulling the trigger on a Scherzer trade, there are a multitude of factors that outweigh the three-time Cy Young Award winner being dealt. Here are seven reasons why the Nationals won’t trade Scherzer.
Scherzer is the Face of the Nationals
There are four pitchers in MLB who are the face of their respective franchise: Scherzer, deGrom, Clayton Kershaw, and Blake Snell. If any of those players were traded, with the exclusion of Kershaw, the team’s fan base would revolt.
Scherzer is the Nationals’ identity. He’s arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball, and his presence on the hill is supposed to be a shoo-in victory for the Nationals. Any success they aspire to achieve with their current core cannot be had without Scherzer; his departure would likely hit home for Nationals fans more than Harper’s. Plus, when’s the last time a team traded away a pitcher with Scherzer’s organizational and on-field value to the Nationals?
The Nationals’ Asking Price Would be Through the Roof
In a theoretical scenario where the Nationals were shopping, or listening to offers for Scherzer, the asking price would be along the lines of the biggest trade package in MLB history. They’re going to want a young pitcher who can start in the major leagues within a year, an infielder to potentially replace Rendon with the skill set to one day play up to his production, and at least two other highly regarded prospects.
We’ll use the New York Yankees as an example, based on SNY‘s John Harper reporting that general manager Brian Cashman is willing to do “whatever it takes” to acquire the Nationals ace. It would cost either Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar, right-hander Domingo German, and three-to-four of Estevan Florial, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Albert Abreu, and Jonathan Loaisiga — which is exactly the point. Teams aren’t going to pay what the Nationals want because the price tag would be astronomically high, and understandably so from both ends of the spectrum.
Starting Pitching is the Nationals’ Biggest Asset
The Nationals starting rotation features Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez. One is a future Hall of Famer, one is a strikeout machine, one was an All-Star in 2018, and the other is coming off a bounce-back season where he recorded a 2.83 ERA. At full force, this is arguably the best starting rotation in baseball.
The Nationals have sported great starting pitching for years, and it’s what keeps them in the playoff hunt, despite the discouraging situations they play themselves into from time to time. Great pitching always gives you a chance to win, and the Nationals are able to, at times, mask their bullpen’s ineptitude with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, and friends giving manager Dave Martinez length. Removing the pitching staff’s backbone would open the floodgates that end the Nationals’ season.
Trading Scherzer Would be Taking an Organizational 180
The Nationals signed Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, Sanchez to a two-year, $19 million deal, Brian Dozier to a one-year, $9 million deal, Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million deal, and Trevor Rosenthal — who was released Sunday morning — to a one-year, $7 million deal this offseason, despite Harper being on the open market. They also acquired Yan Gomes from the Cleveland Indians. Why would they go back on freshly spending nearly $200 million by trading their ace?
The Nationals are an extremely talented ballclub. Now, talent and results are two different animals, which they’ve shown since making their first playoff appearance in 2012. With that said, when you have talent of that magnitude, you can’t give up on it. It wouldn’t make any sense to spend all the money the Nationals spent to later trade Scherzer.
Mike Rizzo Can’t Lose the Team’s Three Most Significant Players
The Nationals let Harper sign with the division rival Philadelphia Phillies for two reasons: 1) They had Juan Soto and Victor Robles, and 2) The money that would’ve been spent on Harper could be used on Rendon. Except, they haven’t signed Rendon, and it looks like he’ll hit the open market this winter, which allows other teams to pursue a player who has become even more valuable, as others who were projected to be top-tier free agents have signed extensions (Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander).
The repercussions? General manager Mike Rizzo could be fired for the responsibility of Harper, Rendon, and Scherzer’s departure. Wouldn’t any general manager be relieved of their duties if they lost two of their best players for nothing and traded away another?
Nationals Park Would be Empty, and Dollar Bills Would Blow Elsewhere
Even though being 14th in attendance isn’t anything to boast over, the Nationals could very well experience an enormous drop in attendance if Scherzer is traded. Remember the creaking sounds of the late 2000s in Nationals Park? If Scherzer is dealt, those days could make a return — which is the Lerner family’s worst nightmare.
Before Harper was called up to the big leagues in 2012, the Nationals were one of the biggest laughing stocks in MLB. Few people came to their games, and the organization struggled to field a team that could surpass 60 wins. The Nationals don’t play in New York or Los Angeles, where there are an overwhelming amount of fans; they have to stay competitive, or the fans — and money — head elsewhere. If you’re a baseball fan, what lure would the Nationals have that draws you to a game of theirs? The only reason you’d go is to maybe see the president’s race, or give Screech a high-five. Is that compelling enough?
The Playoffs are Feasible
Yes, they have a losing record and one of, if not the worst bullpen in the sport, but making the playoffs is feasible for the Nationals. The NL, as a whole, has been incredibly underwhelming this season, as there are eight teams within five games of the second Wild Card seeding; the Nationals are three games out of such seeding.
With a potent starting rotation and a lineup that has come to life the last month, adding some reliable relievers via trade gives the Nationals a well-rounded roster that can compete for a playoff spot. The Nationals have won 18 of their last 27 games, and if they keep winning at this rate, the only thing standing in their way of reclaiming the NL East division crown is the Atlanta Braves (46-33).