This is the first in our 2021 trade deadline series, and we’re starting it off with the biggest potential prize in Nationals’ righty Max Scherzer.
Let me preface this by saying it’s highly unlikely the Nats deal Scherzer — especially since they’re reportedly interested in Kris Bryant. But being six games under .500, six games back of the Mets in the NL East and a -31 run differential (thanks to a 24-8 drubbing by the Padres Friday night), the Nats should probably be in sell mode, as their farm system is among the worst in the sport — Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge notwithstanding.
Scherzer, 37 in 11 days, is still pitching at an extremely high level. He owns a 2.66 ERA, 3.31 FIP and a 29.7 K-BB%. In fact, his 35.5 K% would be a career-best if the season ended today. His velocity hasn’t wavered and his fastball, slider and changeup are still above-average-to-plus-pitches. He’s as good as he’s ever been, which is remarkable for a guy in his 14th MLB season.
And he still has a lot of red in his ledger.
Word is Scherzer — who has 10-5 rights, meaning he can veto any trade — wants a contract extension if he’s to agree to a trade destination. With the Trevor Bauer situation not officially resolved, but looking more and more like he’ll never pitch for the Dodgers again, there might be a match here for the LA. Also, Clayton Kershaw is in the last year of his deal, while Dustin May isn’t expected back — at the earliest — until late 2022.
As Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic pointed out on Thursday, the deferrals in Scherzer’s contract could be a difficult situation to manage, but the Dodgers and Nats can probably figure it out. And a 2-year, $66 million contract extension would probably satisfy both sides (he wrote with a coin flip’s level of confidence).
Scherzer is the best player who should be available before the July 30 deadline. It’s a similar situation to 2017, when the Dodgers traded for the best available player in Yu Darvish. Scherzer is definitely better now than Darvish was in 2017, so that’ll impact the potential trade package.
The Dodgers got Darvish for Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy and Brendon Davis back in ’17. Calhoun was a Top 100 prospect when dealt, while Alexy and were a low-level, former prep prospects. Ruiz is better than Calhoun was when he was dealt. The Nationals have a dearth of quality catching depth in the majors and minors. Yan Gomes is in the last year of his deal and their top catching prospect — Israel Pineda — is a 21-year-old in High-A with a .586 OPS and who was left unprotected in the most recent Rule 5 Draft. Pages gives them another high-ceiling outfielder for an org lacking position player depth. Williams, who came over in the Ross Stripling trade, would give them an arm in the archetype they like when it comes to pitching prospects.
The Dodgers can afford to deal from a position of strength. Ruiz is having a resurgent 2021 with some newfound power. He probably isn’t going to displace Will Smith as the “starter,” and Austin Barnes is locked up through 2022. And Diego Cartaya is looking every bit like the stud catching prospect the Dodgers thought he’d be when the signed him for $2.5 million out of Venezuela in July 2018. Pages is still probably a couple years away, while the Dodgers have a lot of pitching prospects to make up for the loss of Lewis.
If LA also wanted a reliever like Daniel Hudson, the deal could be expanded to include a low-level lottery ticket guy like Eddys Leonard, Jose Ramos, Jorbit Vivas or someone along those lines. Hudson is in the final year of a 2-year, $11 million pact he signed with the Nats after they won the World Series in 2019. If Brad Hand is a target, he would fetch a better return than Hudson would.
As I said in the beginning, a Scherzer trade is extremely unlikely. Teams don’t normally trade future Hall of Fame players, even if it makes sense for the org in the long run. The pressure for Scherzer to win isn’t there because he already has a ring, but he’s also one of the most competitive pitchers in the game, so a chance to get back to the Fall Classic might be enticing enough — along with a contract extension — to get him to approve a trade to the Dodgers.
LA is already well into luxury tax territory and I suspect if they do acquire Scherzer, it’d be because they think they can void or partially void Bauer’s deal, allowing them to stay $40 million within the $210 luxury tax threshold. If they go over that, their draft pick would be moved back 10 spots in next year’s Rule 4 Draft. That might not be the worst thing if it means Scherzer pitches in LA for the next 2-plus seasons.
He’s the best player who could be available at this deadline, and the Dodgers need a starting pitcher. It almost makes too much sense.