The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with very few holes and in no dire need of making any big free agent signings or trades. The team was solid all around and, if anything, only really needed to acquire a second baseman – which they did by trading for Yunel Escobar.
But as we all know, general manager Mike Rizzo usually isn’t one to settle for a team that would “probably” have been great again in 2015 after winning the NL East last season. So, what did Rizzo do to make an already stellar roster even better? He made the best starting rotation in baseball even better by signing superstar free agent Max Scherzer to a 7-year, $210 million contract.
By bringing Scherzer into the fold, Rizzo made the Nationals instant World Series favorites and gave them a starting rotation that, at least on paper, is arguably one of the best in baseball history. Of course, not everyone sees it that way.
Scherzer’s deal is for an enormous amount of money, and that alone usually leads to a great deal of criticism. Scherzer’s deal in particular has drawn more than its fair share of criticism because not only will the right-hander make $210 million, but since the deal is deferred through 2028 the Nationals will also have to pay him half of the money ($105 million) when he might not even be playing for them anymore.
In a column published Feb. 18, ESPN’s Jayson Stark discussed the industry reaction to the Scherzer deal as part of a survey of 35 MLB executives about this offseason’s deals from around the league. According to the survey, the Scherzer signing was the “Most Outrageous Contract” of the offseason, barely beating out Giancarlo Stanton‘s 13-year, $325 million extension.
Here’s what Stark and a baseball exec had to say about the Scherzer signing:
"As we’d agreed upon earlier, Max Scherzer is a great pitcher. No dispute there. But this contract has fired up the industry like no deal (non-A-Rod division) since possibly the Kevin Brown contract. One of the execs quoted earlier called this one “a Bobby Bonilla joke waiting to happen.” With all due respect to Bonilla, who will be raking in nearly $1.2 million a year from the Mets until he’s 72 years old, Scherzer still has him beat. He’ll get $15 million a year — seriously, $15 million — through the year 2028. “And no matter how you look at how that devalues the present-day value of the deal,” the same exec said, “that’s just amazing. Even if he’s great for four years and then declines, that’s 10 more years you’re still paying him $15 million. That’s incredible.” It’s hard to disagree."
Now, it should be noted that some of these criticisms are fair. The Nationals will be paying Scherzer a lot of money and the team will be paying him for many years. But to say that the Scherzer deal is “outrageous” is absurd for several reasons.
First off, there’s only so much you can say about a contract when the player hasn’t even taken the mound for his new team yet. Yes, these long-term, big money contracts sometimes have miserable results, especially with pitchers. But other times, after a few years of the contract have passed, early concerns are quickly erased by the player living up to expectations and actually earning his pay day (Jayson Werth, anyone?).
Of course, there’s no guarantee that this will happen with Scherzer. The right-hander could struggle or get hurt and make this deal one of the worst in baseball history. Or, he might lead the Nationals to a World Series title and turn in several years of dominant pitching performances on the mound. But to write off the deal before it has even started to run its course isn’t a good idea. And it’s important to realize that the structure of the deal, which at first glance might seam ridiculous, actually gives the Nationals some much-needed flexibility.
By not having to cough up $25 million+ each year right off the bat – the Nationals will pay him $10 million this season and $15 million in each of the following three years – the team has more flexibility to possibly try to extend some players that are approaching free agency. Saving $10 million each year might not seem like much, but that money could go to players like Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann.
On the baseball side, the deal is clearly a good move for the Nationals. Not only does the team get a Cy Young award-winner and yet another ace in a rotation full of them, but Scherzer will also provide the Nationals with insurance incase Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister walk next offseason.
We won’t know if the Scherzer deal is a success until it’s all said and done. Calling the deal “outrageous” at this point is beyond absurd.