When Max Scherzer was traded to the Dodgers almost three weeks ago, it felt like the next time we saw Scherzer in a Curly W would be at a 2019 World Series reunion party. The chances of him returning to Washington as a player would most likely be in the visitor’s dugout. That is the reality, even though general manager Mike Rizzo left the door cracked open with remarks yesterday on his radio segment on 106.7 The Fan.
“Max has been a big part of my life. I drafted him in 2006 and continue to be close to him to this day,” Rizzo said. “He’s going to go to a team of his choice. He’s going to pick and choose the criteria that works for him.”
“We would love to have him retire in a Nationals uniform. If at all possible — we’d love to do it. I think he would embrace coming back if all the right pieces were in order. He’s a guy close to our hearts and a guy we loved having in D.C.”
Well, maybe so maybe not, but it sure sounds like the Nats will at least inquire on Scherzer. And yes, the Nats have a need for a frontline pitcher especially with the uncertainty that will surround Stephen Strasburg‘s return from thoracic outlet surgery, and the demise of Patrick Corbin who now owns the second worst ERA of all active starting pitchers at 6.04.
With the news this week that Joe Ross had partially torn his surgically repaired UCL and will opt to let it heal on its own, he becomes a huge question mark in his final year of team control. That might lead to the Nats non-tendering him since they only control him for next year. Ross was paid $1.5 million this year and would demand at least that much if a new deal was not agreed to outside of the arb process. This will be one of the off-season question marks among all of the question marks. It is mind numbing to think of how much the starting rotation is such an unknown for the first time since 2010.
Who can the Nats count on? It seems like it might just be Josiah Gray and Erick Fedde, and with all due respect to Fedde, he hasn’t exactly been a frontline starter and looks more like a number 5. Of course the real hopes are that Strasburg miraculously snaps back into his form as a top of the rotation pitcher and Corbin finds his former self which is also a big uncertainty at this point.
News leaked yesterday that MLB is proposing a CBT tax cap to start at $180 million. That is not good news for the Nats as they will have one-third of that amount tied up in the $60 they owe annually to Stras and Corbin for the next three years until Corbin’s deal comes to its completion. Strasburg has five more years on his deal at $35 million per year.
Here are just some of the pitchers who are available in free agency and listed in alphabetical order: Tyler Anderson, Zach Davies, Kevin Gausman, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Robbie Ray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Carlos Rodon, Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard.
The Nats could also just stay out of the expensive free agent pitching market and pull from within their own organization with Paolo Espino, Sean Nolin, Josh Rogers, Seth Romero and Sterling Sharp as internal candidates as well as to look towards some reclamation projects with some veteran pitchers like they did with Jon Lester for this season.
Ownership will determine in the budget just how far this team will be going for it in 2022 and beyond. The team will have decisions on players like Josh Bell and Ross as to whether they will tender them contracts in their final years of arbitration eligibility.
The team will pay up for Juan Soto in his second year of arbitration at an estimated $15 million and if Bell and Ross are out, the team would be at $116 million with $64 million to spend if they were to spend to this proposed $180 million limit. Just part of the unknowns to how the Nats will spend. Right now they have needs to add for a starting pitcher, a closer, a shortstop, a first baseman, a left fielder, and a third baseman. That would be an average of $10.7 million for each need if they did that or they could certainly pencil in from depth with the aforementioned pitchers, Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and others.
While Rizzo has not said it, sources have told us the Nats will be in the market to bring in a few of the free agents available. It sounds like they will spend, but most likely it will be for just three or four players to get the team back on the right path while they try to figure out what and who they have with Strasburg and Corbin who really are the keys to how 2022 turns out for his Washington Nationals team.