Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Max Scherzer in Free Agency
Max Scherzer joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in July with hopes of winning his second World Series ring. In no small part thanks to his tired arm, however, those hopes were finally dashed on Saturday.
Regardless, now begins one of the most fascinating free-agent sweepstakes in recent memory.
Though every team in MLB wishes it could have a pitcher of Scherzer's caliber, the list of clubs that can actually afford the kind of deal he'll be looking for is much shorter. The list of teams that could actually sign him? Even shorter.
So first, let's discuss what Scherzer will actually be looking for as a free agent. After that, we can count down his most likely destinations all the way from No. 30 to No. 1.
What Will Scherzer Be Looking for in Free Agency?
The last time Scherzer was a free agent after the 2014 season, he netted a seven-year, $210 million deal from the Washington Nationals.
Because Scherzer is now 37 years old, his next deal will have to be much shorter. But he certainly has the leverage to demand big bucks, particularly if he collects what would be his fourth Cy Young Award after dominating with a 2.46 ERA and a characteristically elite contact rate in the regular season.
According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Scherzer wants to pitch into his 40s and could thus be on the lookout for a three-year deal. Heyman also speculated that such a deal could top Gerrit Cole's record-setting average annual value of $36 million.
Otherwise, Scherzer spoke in August that he was keen on accepting a trade to the Dodgers because he preferred to stay in the National League and to pitch in warm weather. The NL aspect won't be as important this winter if the designated hitter goes universal, but his climate preference might still matter.
It's also a good guess that Scherzer will want to pitch for a win-now team with World Series aspirations. Because in case you haven't heard, he kinda-sorta has a competitive streak in him.
Now then, let's count 'em down going five at a time for suitors Nos. 30 through 6 and then individual spotlights for the top five.
30-26: Pirates, Guardians, Athletics, Rays, Royals
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
After their starters pitched to an NL-high 5.53 ERA in 2021, the Pirates sure could use an ace like Scherzer. But since they're rebuilding and they've never signed a free-agent deal worth so much as $40 million, this is the hardest possible no.
29. Cleveland Guardians
Because they already have Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and solid depth underneath him in their rotation, the future Guardians don't have the strongest need for Scherzer. They also can't afford him, as Edwin Encarnacion's $60 million deal represents the high point in their free-agent spending.
28. Oakland Athletics
Maybe the A's will be able to entertain signing players like Scherzer after they get a new stadium, whether it's elsewhere in Oakland or in a new city like Las Vegas. In the meantime, they don't figure to beat their record investment of $36 million in Yoenis Cespedes any time soon.
27. Tampa Bay Rays
On paper, Scherzer is a dream fit for a Rays rotation that's been missing a proper ace ever since Tyler Glasnow underwent Tommy John surgery in August. Like with the A's, though, the financials are simply far from feasible here.
26. Kansas City Royals
The Royals need pitching and they aren't that far from Scherzer's hometown of St. Louis, but that's really all there is to this fit. The Royals have never done a nine-figure deal in free agency, and their reign as the 2015 World Series champions is becoming a distant memory.
25-21: Brewers, Reds, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Orioles
25. Milwaukee Brewers
A rotation with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Scherzer? Oof. Too bad it'll never happen. The Brewers have much bigger needs to fill in their offense, and their 2022 payroll is already projected to exceed what they spent in 2021. If they do bump it up, it probably won't be by $36 million.
24. Cincinnati Reds
The bright side of Nick Castellanos' looming opt-out is that it could free up some money for the Reds to spend elsewhere. But it won't be nearly enough for Scherzer, and the Reds don't exactly need starting pitching after their rotation led the majors in rWAR this season.
23. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have some big deals in their history, and they may well do another if owner Dick Monfort is feeling pressure to throw the club's fanbase a bone after two straight dismal seasons. But Denver isn't exactly a warm-weather locale, and no pitcher actually wants to pitch at Coors Field.
22. Arizona Diamondbacks
It was only six years ago that the D-backs shocked the world by signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract. But even if they wanted to spend that kind of money again—which, in all likelihood, they don't—it's doubtful that Scherzer is looking to pitch for a 110-loss team.
21. Baltimore Orioles
Speaking off 110-loss teams, the Orioles at least have clear books and a top-ranked farm system going for them as they seek to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. However, they'll be lucky if they so much as get Scherzer to listen, much less sign. The timing is just off.
20-16: Rangers, Marlins, Cubs, Twins, Nationals
20. Texas Rangers
The Rangers badly need starting pitching following a year in which their rotation finished in the red for rWAR. Luckily, they have money to spend and are intent on spending it. Yet the hard part for them would be convincing Scherzer that they're anywhere close to contending after dropping 102 games this year.
19. Miami Marlins
Sure, the Marlins lost 95 games in 2021. But they previously made the playoffs in 2020, and they have the young talent base and payroll flexibility to forge a path back in 2022. But since they need bats a lot more than they need arms, Scherzer likely won't be on their radar this winter.
18. Chicago Cubs
No National League team got less rWAR from its starting pitchers in 2021 than the Cubs. That's their incentive to chase after Scherzer, and they might just have the financial means to do so. It's too bad for them, then, that Scherzer probably won't go to a cold-weather city just to join a 91-loss team.
17. Minnesota Twins
The Twins are in basically the same boat as the Cubs, as their starting pitching was a disaster in 2021 and they now mean to fix it. Likewise, however, they're coming off an 89-loss season and Minneapolis isn't exactly known for its warm climate.
16. Washington Nationals
Even after selling off Scherzer, Trea Turner and a bunch of other wares at the trade deadline, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo insists the team is "rebooting" and not rebuilding. But even if that means the door is open for Scherzer to return, this is no time for either side to pursue a reunion.
15-11: Atlanta, Yankees, Padres, Tigers, Mariners
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Atlanta has yet to do a nine-figure deal in free agency, but perhaps that will change in the near future. The club is, after all, in the thick of contention and is slated to spend less in 2022 than it has in 2021. However, chances are that Atlanta's free-agent priorities will be Freddie Freeman and then everyone else.
14. New York Yankees
Scherzer and Cole in the same rotation? That sounds like fantasy baseball, but not just in the sense that it would be awesome. It's also too good to be true, especially considering the Yankees have a greater need for a new shortstop and they're already looking at a hefty luxury-tax payroll in 2022.
13. San Diego Padres
The Padres seemed to have a deal for Scherzer at the deadline until, suddenly, they didn't. With his job potentially on the line after a brutally disappointing season, GM A.J. Preller could potentially circle back on him this winter. But in all likelihood, he'd first have to make significant payroll cuts.
12. Detroit Tigers
Could Scherzer reunite with the Tigers after seven years away? Never say never. They're on the upswing and they seem ready to return to their big-spending ways. Returning would nonetheless be a risk on Scherzer's part, and the Tigers have a more immediate need for impact hitters anyway.
11. Seattle Mariners
After winning 90 games and just barely missing the playoffs, the Mariners sure look like a team on the verge of becoming a powerhouse in the American League West. They also have money and the willingness to spend it, so they might have a shot at Scherzer even in spite of Washington's typically gray conditions.
10-6: White Sox, Red Sox, Phillies, Astros, Cardinals
10. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox's rotation is all about missing bats, so Scherzer would fit naturally alongside Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease as a finishing piece on a super-rotation that could keep the White Sox atop the AL Central for the foreseeable future.
This would, however, require the White Sox to stretch their budget even more than they already are. That could be done while they're in a win-now window, but they could deem it more sensible to address areas where they actually have needs. For instance, Marcus Semien would be a huge pickup for second base.
9. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are another team that was in the mix to land Scherzer at the deadline. That obviously didn't come to pass, but they could potentially try for him again during an offseason in which they'll have some luxury-tax breathing room.
Or, they could aim for other upgrades given that they already have Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi atop their rotation. For instance, they could go after Freddie Freeman at first base or target a much-needed relief upgrade such as Raisel Iglesias.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
After this season made it 10 years in a row without a postseason berth for the Phillies, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski vowed to be "aggressive" on the offseason market. If he covets Scherzer, well, it wouldn't be for the first time.
Of course, Citizens Bank Park isn't a great place for pitchers, and Scherzer might have some hard feelings about manager Joe Girardi. Still, he might be swayed by the right offer and the chance to reunite with Bryce Harper and also team up with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.
7. Houston Astros
After hitting some snags with their starting pitching, the Astros could determine that Scherzer is just the pitcher they need. And with Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander set to come off their books, they should have enough financial leeway to go after him.
If so, the only question for Scherzer might concern whether the team's championship window is still as wide-open as it was between 2017 and 2019. With the Astros' regular-season returns having diminished in each of the last two seasons, perhaps not.
6. St. Louis Cardinals
As close as the Royals are to St. Louis, the Cardinals are obviously the only team that can offer Scherzer a proper homecoming. It might not hurt their chances that he has a 2.06 ERA lifetime at Busch Stadium, or that the team will get some financial room upon cutting Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martinez loose.
Even if the Cardinals' offer is good, though, Scherzer would be justified if he had doubts about the team's contention window. The Cardinals didn't even win the NL Central this year, and top stars like Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado aren't getting any younger.
5. New York Mets
Before the New York Mets can get serious about Scherzer, they first need someone to call the shots in their front office. That situation is, shall we say, suboptimal at the moment.
No matter what, though, it will still be Steve Cohen signing the checks.
He said upon taking over last year that he wants to win a World Series within the next three to five years. By way of a 77-85 record, it became apparent during the first of these years that there's still a lot of work to be done. And given the circumstances, "work" in this case basically means "investing."
To this end, starting pitching is a top priority. Even if the Mets can count on two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom (elbow) returning to form in 2022, Carlos Carrasco (elbow) is more of a wild card, and Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard are both headed for free agency.
Assuming the next collective bargaining agreement raises the luxury-tax threshold for 2022 above this year's $210 million barrier, the Mets shouldn't have any limitations in terms of making Scherzer a competitive offer. If so, he would just need to decide that he wants them as much as they want him.
4. Los Angeles Angels
Even if he doesn't stay with the Dodgers, what are the chances that Scherzer only moves an hour down the road to join the Los Angeles Angels?
According to Heyman, pretty good. He tweeted in August that the Angels looked into Scherzer this summer even though they were barely in the AL playoff picture, and that it therefore "makes sense" for them to give him another look this winter.
With the Angels projected to spend $52 million less in 2022 than they did in 2021, the money should be there. They can also offer the warm weather that Scherzer prefers.
The catch? Well, it's obvious. Try as the Angels might to establish a consistent contender, they just haven't been able to do it. No thanks to a 4.78 ERA from their starters, a 77-85 showing in 2021 made it six straight losing seasons for the Halos.
Yet as losing teams go, the Angels are far from hopeless. Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout both have strong claims to the title of "Best Player in MLB," and Anthony Rendon is none too shabby in his own right. In Joe Maddon, the Angels also have a skipper who's been there and done that many times over.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays came up short of making the playoffs in 2021, but, honestly, they should have been in easily.
This is partially an expression of disappointment, but also one of befuddlement. How they won only 91 games despite also having the American League's third-best run differential (plus-183) is the cruel fate that can only be brought about by bad luck.
Whatever the case, the Blue Jays are here to stay. Not only because young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette and resident veteran star George Springer are in for the long haul, but also because they have a ton of payroll flexibility that they mean to put to use this winter.
So well-positioned are the Blue Jays, in fact, that they might be able to afford to both re-sign Robbie Ray and bring aboard Scherzer. Along with Hyun-Jin Ryu, there would then be a super-trio atop Toronto's rotation.
Granted, Toronto isn't what anyone would call a warm-weather city. But as long as the retractable roof over the Rogers Centre keeps working, that won't matter on days when Scherzer would have to take the mound at home.
2. San Francisco Giants
The last time the San Francisco Giants saw Scherzer, he was firing a (albeit controversial) third strike past Wilmer Flores to end the National League Division Series.
If the Giants are so inclined, they could ensure that Scherzer is in one of their uniforms the next time they see him.
Though few expected the Giants to win 107 games this year, it happened and there's no turning back now. Yet they're also going to have some major holes in their rotation, which stands to lose Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto to free agency.
The good news is that the Giants should have a ton of money to spend this winter. Their 2022 payroll is projected at $65 million. That's about $100 million less than they spent in 2021, and even further short of the franchise's high mark of $200.5 million in 2018.
One caveat with the Giants is that their current star power—i.e., Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria—leans older. However, the Giants are also sitting on a top-10 farm system that's loaded with players who could break through in the near future.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
At the risk of being anticlimactic, the easiest and indeed most practical thing Scherzer can do this winter is stay right where he's at.
Though their World Series aspirations didn't pan out, there's little question that the Dodgers' partnership with Scherzer was a fruitful one. He was the best pitcher in baseball after they got him at the trade deadline, and he served them well in the playoffs despite hiccups early in both the NLDS and NLCS.
"Well, I'm glad I'm part of an organization that wants to win," Scherzer said in August, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, "and has their eye on the ultimate prize."
For their part, the Dodgers stand to lose not only Scherzer but also fellow three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to free agency this winter. Even if they can't void his contract, it's also beyond unlikely that Trevor Bauer will pitch for them after being accused of sexual assault in June.
To be sure, the Dodgers are already estimated to have $194 million on their books for 2022. But since that's nearly $100 million less than they've spent this year, they should have the capacity to re-sign Scherzer.