Ranking Top Landing Spots for Nationals Ace Max Scherzer Amid Trade Rumors

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 24, 2021

Ranking Top Landing Spots for Nationals Ace Max Scherzer Amid Trade Rumors

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Maybe this will be the year that the Washington Nationals trade Max Scherzer.

    Of course, Scherzer was previously seen as a possible trade target during the Nats' slow start to the 2019 season. Instead, the three-time Cy Young Award winner stuck around and eventually helped Washington win its first-ever World Series championship.

    But as Mark Feinsand of MLB.com and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic have speculated, the chances of Scherzer departing D.C. are likely higher this time around.

    The Nationals are following a 26-34 season in 2020 with a 7-10 record so far in 2021, and their odds of an immediate recovery are diminished with Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg on the injured list. Should their slide continue, there would be sense in trading Scherzer before his contract expires at the end of the year.

    Scherzer is earning $35 million and can veto trades by way of his 10-and-5 rights, so dealing for him would be complicated. But as an all-time strikeout artist who's still going strong with a 1.80 ERA and 33 punch-outs through 25 innings this season, he's surely worth a little complication.

    As for which teams might try to acquire him, let's begin with some honorable mentions and then count down five favorites. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Houston Astros (9-10, 4th in AL West)

    With two-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander—who shared the Detroit Tigers rotation with Scherzer between 2010 and 2014—sidelined after having Tommy John surgery last September, could the Astros look to Scherzer as a co-ace for Zack Greinke?

    It's possible but not likely. Adding Scherzer would almost certainly put Houston over the $210 million luxury tax threshold, which is a place that owner Jim Crane has previously hinted he'd rather not go.


    Minnesota Twins (7-11, 4th in AL Central)

    The Twins are trying to make it three straight American League Central titles in 2021, but the early struggles of Kenta Maeda and Matt Shoemaker might have them feeling worried about their rotation.

    The trouble is, the Twins are already operating with one of their largest-ever payrolls. And with their bullpen working on a 4.91 ERA, they might eventually shop for multiple relievers instead of one ace starter.


    Philadelphia Phillies (9-10, T-2nd in NL East)

    The Phillies are now under the leadership of Dave Dombrowski, who notably traded for Scherzer in 2009 when he was running the Tigers. Might he try to repeat history?

    If he wants to build a super-rotation led by Scherzer and fellow aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, then sure. But that would require the Nats to deal with a National League East rival, which presumably won't be their first choice if they indeed make the veteran ace available.


    San Francisco Giants (13-7, 2nd in NL West)

    This idea actually comes from Feinsand, who pitched Scherzer as a possibility for the Giants under the logic that they might want to go all out with core stars like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford all in the final guaranteed years of their contracts.

    However, it might not be arms on San Francisco's radar if the club goes into buy mode this summer. With its offense hitting just .219 with a .296 OBP so far, bats figure to be a higher priority.


    Seattle Mariners (12-8, 2nd in AL West)

    Like the Giants, the Mariners could be more inclined to look for impact hitters if their warm start to 2021 eventually necessitates buying ahead of the July 30 trade deadline. Their offense is slashing just .212/.296/.366 so far.

    But whereas the Giants have a clear ace in Kevin Gausman, the Mariners don't really have a No. 1 in their rotation. Adding Scherzer would solve that problem, potentially clearing the way for the franchise's first playoff berth since 2001.

5. Los Angeles Angels

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Record: 9-9, 3rd in AL West

    Pitching-wise, the Los Angeles Angels came into this season hoping Dylan Bundy and Shohei Ohtani would be standouts in a six-man starting rotation.

    That's not really working out. Bundy has been just OK in compiling a 4.50 ERA through his first four outings. Ohtani has been limited to two starts by a blister and has otherwise struggled with his control in walking 11 of the 41 batters he's faced. 

    Factoring in that his rotation's overall ERA is an ugly 5.01, Angels general manager Perry Minasian has a handful of excuses to have Scherzer on his radar. He also has pieces that could appeal to Washington, such as former top prospect Jo Adell and current prospects Brandon Marsh and Reid Detmers.

    But would Scherzer accept a trade to the Angels?

    Because they have a straighter road to the playoffs than the Nationals currently do, he would have at least one very good reason to give his approval if the Angels and Nats work something out. But if there's another suitor with a more solid rotation already in place, he might force the Nats to deal with that one instead.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Record: 9-10, T-3rd in AL East

    Though the Blue Jays have lost more than they've won so far, it's not really their rotation's fault. It ranks solidly in the middle of the pack with a 4.01 ERA.

    And yet, to call what Toronto has a "rotation" isn't entirely accurate. The Blue Jays have gotten a 2.51 ERA out of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz so far, but they're just three of an MLB-high 10 different starters the team has used as it's struggled to account for injuries.

    The simplest solution for this conundrum involves Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling and other injured hurlers getting and staying healthy. But if that's not how the cookie crumbles, perhaps general manager Ross Atkins will cast an eye in Scherzer's direction.

    For his part, the thought of joining a team with plentiful offensive firepower and a sneaky-good bullpen—check out that 2.18 ERA—might be alluring enough for Scherzer to waive his 10-and-5 rights and head north of the border.

    In exchange for Scherzer, the Blue Jays could offer Washington one of their five top-100 prospects, such as infielders Austin Martin or Jordan Groshans.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Record: 9-10, T-3rd in NL Central

    The St. Louis Cardinals reported to spring training on a high after dealing for Nolan Arenado in February, but even then, it was possible to see their starting pitching as a crack in their contention plans.

    Sure enough, Cardinals starters have flopped with a 5.04 ERA. Young right-hander Dakota Hudson is powerless to help as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Because he last pitched in October 2019, how much veteran righty Miles Mikolas can help once his sore shoulder is healed is up for debate.

    As such, it's not too soon for general manager John Mozeliak to start thinking about Scherzer. And with Arenado entrenched at the hot corner, he might even be willing to discuss young third baseman Nolan Gorman if the Nats ask about him.

    Scherzer, meanwhile, just so happens to be a St. Louis native. So if the Cards want him, he might be all too happy to come home.

    Plus, he might be enthusiastic about joining forces with fellow veteran Adam Wainwright and young ace Jack Flaherty. The three of them could be just the spearhead the Cardinals need to get through a National League field in which the Los Angeles Dodgers loom large.

2. Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Record: 13-8 (1st in AL East)

    The Boston Red Sox were nobody's favorite to win the AL East at the outset of this season, but they've quickly turned that very outcome into a legitimate possibility.

    However, they can't be too comfortable with their starting rotation. The club has gotten a 5.06 ERA out of starters not named Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi, and it's anyone's guess as to when Chris Sale will return from Tommy John surgery.

    Regarding potential deadline deals, the catch is that Boston is already up against the $210 million tax threshold. But since the club's penalties reset last year, owner John Henry might just give Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom the go-ahead to pursue Scherzer if the club is still leading the division later this summer.

    The Red Sox could pique Washington's interest by offering a top prospect such as first baseman Triston Casas or second baseman Jeter Downs. Then, it would just be a matter of Scherzer's approval.

    From his perspective, joining Boston could mean a chance to benefit from arguably baseball's best offense and one of its best bullpens, with the knowledge that he, Rodriguez, Eovaldi and potentially Sale could be a four-man wrecking ball in October.

1. New York Yankees

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Record: 8-11 (5th in AL East)

    The New York Yankees have been a mess this season, but they should still be taken seriously as a contender.

    If nothing else, the Yankees bullpen has been unhittable as it's racked up an MLB-best 2.08 ERA. And because it's home to some of the game's most feared sluggers, it's beyond unlikely that the club's offense will remain dead last in slugging percentage all season.

    What the Yankees should be worried about, however, is how their non-Gerrit Cole starting pitchers bear a 5.34 ERA. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, specifically, haven't picked up the slack for Cole.

    Like the Red Sox, the Yankees are already brushing against the $210 million tax threshold. But if they really want to get back to the World Series the first time since 2009, they should be willing to go past that mark and perhaps even lose top prospect Jasson Dominguez in the process.

    If the Yankees do become interested in Scherzer this summer, it wouldn't be for the first time. And provided their offense comes around first, they could find it easy to pitch Scherzer on coming to New York as the finishing touch for a legitimate World Series favorite.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.