Max Scherzer got his money, and the National League’s deepest rotation just got deeper. According to multiple reports, Scherzer has reached an agreement with the Nationals on a seven-year contract. Financial terms have not been announced, but FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the deal will be worth more than $180 million. If that is indeed the case, this contract would then rank second among those signed by pitchers in terms of both total value and average annual value behind only Clayton Kershaw‘s seven-year, $215 million extension signed with the Dodgers last year (that deal had a $30.7 million AAV). The signing also sets up the likelihood that the Nationals will trade one member of the starting rotation that posted the league’s best ERA while helping the team to an NL-high 96 wins and the NL East title last season.
Ever since Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million extension offer from the Tigers back in March — sometimes reported as a seven-years, $160 million offer when including his 2014 salary — on the heels of winning the 2013 AL Cy Young award, it was clear that the 30-year-old righty and his agent, Scott Boras, were aiming for a deal of distinction. They found one. If Rosenthal’s source is correct, Scherzer’s contract will be the largest free agent deal ever signed by a pitcher, topping the six-year, $155 million deal to which the Cubs signed Jon Lester back in December, and the seven-year, $155 million contract the Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka last winter. Kershaw’s deal and the seven-year, $180 million contract signed by former Tigers teammate Justin Verlander were both extensions.
With the Cubs satiated by the Lester signing, the Tigers unwilling or unable to make another Verlander-sized commitment and the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and other big-spending teams all sitting this one out, the market for Scherzer had been slow to develop this winter. That’s in part by design, as Boras has operated this way in the past. Clients of his such as Michael Bourn, Prince Fielder, Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano all signed after most of the other comparable free agents had come off the board and just weeks before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training — or sometimes even afterward. As of Sunday afternoon one other team was said to be in the running for Scherzer’s services, but that team was never identified.
That Scherzer would wind up with Washington makes a certain amount of sense. Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are heading into their final season before free agency and, barring injury, quite likely to command nine-figure deals themselves, and the move also reunites Scherzer with the man who drafted him. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was the Diamondbacks‘ scouting director back in 2006 when the team chose Scherzer with the 11th overall pick out of the University of Missouri. Scherzer didn’t actually sign until May 31, 2007, however, by which point Rizzo had moved on to Washington as its assistant GM.
After winning the AL Cy Young in 2013 on the strength of a season in which he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 10.1 strikeouts per nine and 6.7 WAR (Baseball-Reference version) in 214 1/3 innings, Scherzer enjoyed a 2014 season that was nearly as strong, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 10.3 strikeouts per nine and 6.0 WAR in 220 1/3 innings. Both seasons were significant steps beyond the solid performances he put up during the first 4 1/2 seasons of his career with Arizona (2008-09) and Detroit (2010-12).
During that period, Scherzer’s best single-season ERA was 3.50 (2010) while his best FIP was 3.27 (2012); his overall numbers from 2008-12 included a 3.88 ERA and 3.72 FIP. By backing up his award-winning campaign and making his second straight All-Star appearance (he started the 2013 game at Citi Field), he made clear that he had elevated his game to a new level, and thus was worthy of a top-shelf deal.
In signing with the Nationals, Scherzer joins a team that won the NL East flag for the second time in three years in 2014 and a rotation that led the league in ERA (3.04) while ranking second in quality start rate (65 percent). The team’s top five starters — Zimmermann, Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark — all posted ERAs of 3.57 or better (105 ERA+ or better) while accounting for all but 13 starts; both Fister and Gonzalez served stints on the disabled list during the first half of the season.
With the 28-year-old Zimmermann and soon-to-be-31-year-old Fister both a year away from free agency, the likelihood is that one of the two will be traded to create room in the rotation and to trim payroll. Zimmermann, a second-round pick in 2007, will make $16.5 million in 2015, while Fister, a former teammate of Scherzer’s in Detroit who was acquired in December 2013, will make $11.4 million. The Nats are known both to have discussed an extension with Zimmermann and to have engaged with multiple teams about the possibility of trading him. According to a tweet from Jon Morosi of FoxSports, they also would be “willing to listen on Strasburg.”
We’ll have more information on the signing as news becomes available.