Max Scherzer

This is happening: Nationals sign Max Scherzer

The Washington Nationals have pulled off the most shocking move of baseball’s offseason – they’ve signed the top free agent on the market, Max Scherzer, to a seven-year contract. While the terms of the deal are currently unknown, Scherzer will reportedly be making more than $180 million over the seven years. Former teammate Justin Verlander got $180 million over seven years from the Tigers two springs ago, and Scherzer’s gamble to decline Detroit’s $144 million extension offer last spring ended up paying off in a big way for him.

Needless to say, this winter just got real.

Scherzer is a legitimate ace, a top-tier starting pitcher that Washington has actually lacked during their run over the last three seasons. Sure, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg have been pretty damn good, but neither brings the dominance to the table like Scherzer. He’s made 30 starts in six straight seasons, and has crossed 20 innings in each of the last two. Scherzer has also struck out at least 200 hitters in the last three years, and he’s sliced his walk rate to a point where he’s walking guys at a league average or better rate. In 2014 with the Tigers, he was nearly as good as he was in 2013 when he won the Cy Young, tossing 220 1/3 innings, striking out 252, and pitching to a 3.15 ERA.

For now, Washington has not just one of the best rotations in baseball, but one of the best rotations we’ve seen in recent memory. Scherzer, Zimmermann, and Strasburg will be joined by Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez in the Nationals’ starting quintet. Could you imagine “lucking into” a series where you face Strasburg, Fister, and Gonzalez? That’s downright fearsome.

However, there are still a couple of issues with that rotation. Gonzalez is the only left-hander, meaning a team with a strong lineup of lefty bats could have some fun in a short series. Zimmermann and Fister are both free agents after the season, meaning that the uber rotation could only last for one year (unless the Nationals trade one of them or Strasburg, killing the quintet before it even got a chance to dominate). A trade wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world – Tanner Roark performed quite well for the club in 2015, and could slot into a spot for a ot less money than Zimmermann, Fister, or Strasburg.

And of course, while the Nationals are still favorites in the NL East, this move doesn’t necessarily make them favorites in the National League as a whole. The Cardinals and Dodgers might have something to say about that. Washington’s rotation and offense will likely be fine (assuming the team stays healthy), but I still have some questions about the bullpen following the trade of Tyler Clippard to the Athletics and Rafael Soriano departing (to…well, purgatory, for now) as a free agent. The only sure thing in the pen is Drew Storen, who had his struggles in 2013 before reclaiming the closer’s role with a dominant 2014 season. Jerry Blevins, Blake Treinen, Aaron Barrett, Craig Stammen, and Matt Thornton all shined at times in 2014, but are all either inexperienced or have struggled in prior years.

Needless to say, while this represents the club making a huge splash, it’s a tremendous risk for the club. If the Nationals fall out of the playoffs in the NLDS for the third time in four seasons in 2015, there will be plenty of questions about Matt Williams’ management and Mike Rizzo’s team construction. In addition to Zimmermann and Fister hitting free agency after 2015, Ian Desmond and Denard Span are both also poised to test the market. Washington would then likely need to invest more money in replacing those two and bolstering their roster for 2016 and beyond, and they could end up falling down the rabbit hole like their division rivals in Philadelphia did following their World Championship in 2008. But hey, at least the Phillies had Postseason success before their salary situation started getting out of control. The Nationals have won three playoff games in three seasons, just one more than their hapless division rivals in Atlanta.

This is a gamble. I feel that it’s a wise gamble, but it’s one that could end very poorly for everyone involved if the Nationals don’t have success in October of this year.

UPDATE: Scherzer will make $210 million over the seven year contract….but half of the money is deferred, meaning that he’s getting $15 million a year over 14 years.

The $210 million is just $5 million short of Clayton Kershaw’s record $215 million for a pitcher.

Joe Lucia

About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.

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