As many as eight clubs are in the mix for Nationals ace and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, per Jayson Stark of The Athletic (Twitter link). The Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Astros and Mets are all interested, according to Stark, who adds that the Yankees also inquired but were told Scherzer isn’t likely to waive his no-trade rights for a move to New York. That meshes with recent reporting from SNY’s Andy Martino, who wrote earlier this afternoon that Scherzer wouldn’t approve a trade to the Mets (nor would the Nationals be keen on dealing their ace to the current division leaders).
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported earlier in the day that Scherzer preferred a West Coast club, though MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the ostensible West Coast preference is more about Scherzer wanting to go to a team with a chance to win in 2021 and beyond. Scherzer prefers to go to “a team he could stay with” on a possible extension, per Heyman. Agent Scott Boras indicated as much earlier in the summer, although at the time Boras suggested an extension might be necessary in order for Scherzer to waive his no-trade protection at all. That no longer seems to be the case, but as evidenced by Scherzer’s unwillingness to go to a New York club, the no-trade rights can help him choose his eventual landing spot.
If the Nats are to ultimately trade Scherzer, tweets Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the team’s preference is to do so within the next 48 hours. Doing so would leave ample time to sort through the no-trade obstacles and any potential compensation for waiving those rights (e.g. alterations to deferrals, taxes, etc.).
That said, a trade taking place prior to Thursday’s game would put an acquiring team in a tough spot. Scherzer was scratched from his weekend start due to a triceps issue and is set to return to the mound Thursday. A recent MRI came back clean, and any team acquiring Scherzer would obviously have access to the results from that imaging and other testing. Still, a clean MRI may not inspire as much confidence as seeing Scherzer go out and actually perform. If interested clubs prefer to wait until Scherzer has taken the mound, there’d be fewer than 24 hours between the conclusion of Thursday’s start and Friday afternoon’s deadline.
Any trade involving Scherzer is going to be financially complicated, but looking at Stark’s list of interested parties, there are a few particularly complex scenarios. The Dodgers are already into the final luxury-tax bracket, meaning they’d pay a 62.5 percent overage penalty on any additional money added to the books. For Scherzer, whose remaining luxury hit clocks in at roughly $10.03MM post-deadline and $10.49MM as of this writing, that’d mean paying between $6.27MM and $6.56MM on top of the approximately $12.2MM he’s still owed in actual 2021 salary. (Luxury tax is calculated based on a contract’s average annual value, but Scherzer’s backloaded contract comes with a $35MM salary in 2021 — albeit with much of that sum deferred.)
The Padres are reportedly just above the luxury tax threshold, but are still considering moves that could take them back under that line. A Scherzer acquisition, however, would push them well above the mark. That’s also true of the Astros and the Red Sox, who are both within just a few million of the $210MM threshold. The Rays, of course, have an entirely different sort of financial obstacles to consider (namely, their perennially cellar-level payroll). The Jays and Giants, as teams with deep pockets and no real luxury concerns of which to speak, ostensibly represent the “cleanest” fits of the bunch.
That’s not to say that the Dodgers, Padres, Astros, Rays or Red Sox shouldn’t be considered legitimate contenders for Scherzer. (Although if Scherzer is hoping to stay with the club that acquires him, the low-payroll Rays are an admittedly tough fit.) Most clubs this summer have voiced some iteration of a “we’d exceed the threshold for the ’right’ player” stance. It’s hard to imagine a player who fits that billing more than a bona fide ace and three-time Cy Young winner who has a 2.92 ERA in 49 1/3 postseason innings with the Nats since 2016. But with the Nats theoretically negotiating with a rapidly ticking clock, any complicated financial elements of a deal are magnified.