The rumors are flying that the Nationals may be interested in trading for pitcher Max Scherzer. On the face of it, this doesn’t look like a terrible idea. Analyze this trade harder and it makes no sense for the Nats, and could possibly cripple the team for years to come.
Scherzer has one year left before becoming a free agent. The only reason the Tigers would be interested in trading him for prospects or other players is that they think they can’t afford to sign him once he becomes a free agent.
A pitcher of Scherzer’s talent and caliber will command a very large contract in free agency. My guess is he will command $120-$180 million over five to seven years if he has a good year in 2014, and there is no reason to think he won’t. Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who is very good at maximizing his client’s contract value.
The Nationals can’t afford to give Scherzer that kind of deal. The Nationals have got to get better about not wasting money on veteran rent-a-pitchers like they have done the last two years. The Nationals have players they need to sign to long term contracts over the next four years–Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper come to mind–and those players are going to command large contracts.
The team has said they want to try to get Desmond signed to a long term deal before the start of the 2014 campaign. Ian has already said that he will expect a contract for what he is worth–he is not willing to give the Nats a home town discount. Jordan Zimmerman has publically said the same in regard to his upcoming free agency in 2016–he will be looking for a deal that pays him what he is worth.
As the MASN contract silliness drags on, the Nationals don’t have massive amounts of TV cash to throw to their payroll. They are going to need to spend wisely in order to be able to keep some of their best players.
Scherzer will cost the Nationals top pitching prospects that they can’t afford to give up. The return isn’t worth it. It makes no sense to send two or three top pitching prospects and possibly another position prospect to the Tigers in return for one year of Max Scherzer. In some ways that may be worse than paying $13 million for one year of Dan Haren.
One of the reasons the Nationals felt compelled to sign the Dan Haren‘s and Edwin Jackson‘s of the world was losing Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone to the A’s in the trade for Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals did not have pitching prospects for two years that they felt were major league ready. Therefore, they ran out and signed expensive one year pitching help to get over the bridge to when the next set of prospects in the minors would be major league ready. Giving those prospects away for rent-a-player Scherzer will put the Nationals back in the same box in 2015 when they can ill afford to overpay mediocre pitchers.
At least two of the Nationals pitchers from the minors appear to be major league ready. Taylor Jordan may have had a 1-3 record in his four starts, but his ERA was only 3.66. Anyone who watched Jordan pitch those games realized the losses were not on his shoulders–the fielding behind him was atrocious. Jordan did not allow the errors to rattle him and he showed he may have the stuff and the mentality to be pitching in the majors on a regular basis. Tanner Roark was a revelation. No matter what he was asked to do–start, long relief, one inning appearance–he excelled. He showed the Nats he is ready to be a starting pitcher.
Ross Detwiler may be ready to take his spot as the fourth man in the rotation. If so, the Nats only have one starting pitcher spot open, which can be filled by Roark, or Jordan, or a combination of Ohlendorf and Roark. There are other pitchers in the organization who may be ready to make a bid to start. Rizzo needs to trust the quality of the organization’s drafting (which appears to be very good) and promote players from within whenever possible.
The Nationals need to say no to the temptation of Max Scherzer. In the long run, making that trade would do more harm than good.