Scherzer part of Rizzo’s grand plan, or Lerner’s all-in play for 2015?
Knowing whether it was Nats GM Mike Rizzo (left) or owner Ted Lerner who ultimately made the call on acquiring Max Scherzer could be the biggest barometer for the club's true intentions for the roster this season.
What did Mike Rizzo know, when did he know it and what does he plan to do about it?
These are all vital questions in the wake of the bombshell that the Nationals have signed free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract with half of the money deferred, according to major-league sources.
Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, often says that he cuts his biggest deals with owners and not general managers.
So, let’s assume Nationals owner Ted Lerner negotiated Scherzer’s deal with Boras, just as he negotiated Jayson Werth’s seven-year, $126 million deal with Boras in December 2010.
Rizzo has a history with Scherzer — the GM, as the Diamondbacks’ scouting director, selected the pitcher with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft.
But to what extent did Lerner enable Rizzo to plan for this moment? Did the owner give Rizzo enough time to arrange a trade involving right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and/or another of his high-salaried players? Or will the Nats simply go for it in 2015 knowing they will be paying Scherzer “only” $15 million — his annual salary through 2028 under this deal?
The Nats, according to major-league sources, have discussed trades of Zimmermann, righty Stephen Strasburg and shortstop Ian Desmond the entire off-season. Their payroll, with the addition of Scherzer, will zoom to the $150 million range. That number, however, easily could drop in 2016.
Four Nationals players are entering their free-agent years — Zimmermann, Desmond, pitcher Doug Fister and center fielder Denard Span. Those players will earn a combined $47.9 million this season. After that, all four might be gone.
Lerner is one of the game’s wealthiest owners. Home attendance and local TV ratings will soar if he allows Rizzo to keep this team together. If anything, the Nats should just keep adding — they need a reliever to replace right-hander Tyler Clippard, whom they traded last week to the Athletics, and have entertained signing free-agent righty Casey Janssen, among others.
Actually, seeing as how the Nats are again turning into Team Boras — Strasburg, outfielder Bryce Harper and third baseman Anthony Rendon also are Boras clients — they probably are more likely to sign a Boras reliever such as Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano.
In any case, a rotation of Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gio Gonzalez would be nothing short of hellacious — and right-hander Tanner Roark, who had a 2.85 ERA in 198 2/3 innings last season, would become the best injury protection/long reliever in the game.
It would be difficult to argue with Rizzo if he made a killer deal for Zimmermann — the GM wants young power arms and more young power arms, and also has asked for elite position prospects in certain trades, sources say.
The signing of Scherzer will protect the Nats against the potential losses of Zimmermann and Fister in free agency. A trade for a high-end pitching prospect would add to the Nats’ impressive collection of young talent. But why chip away at a team that could tear through the National League?
Zimmermann was the Nats’ ace last season, no matter how many times club officials tried to prop up Strasburg as their No. 1. Desmond has won three straight Silver Sluggers, and in the view of many players and club officials, is the team’s heart and soul. The idea of trading him and going with Yunel Escobar at short is preposterous on any number of levels — Escobar’s makeup is as questionable as Desmond’s is pristine.
The Nats told one team that inquired on Desmond last week that they will not trade him. It could be that Rizzo simply does not want to deal with that team — his style, according to rival executives, is to aggressively pursue the trades he wants, and not waste his time with others. Or perhaps the Nats understand that their best chance to win is with Desmond at short.
The guess here is that Rizzo will stay open-minded, just as he has the entire offseason. Just last week, he told reporters that he would consider a deal for Desmond "that we can’t refuse," adding that it would have to be "pretty elaborate." Not saying he would, not saying he wouldn’t; not committing to anything at all.
If the Mets come with right-hander Noah Syndergaard for Desmond, have at it. If the Yankees are willing to part with right-hander Luis Severino for Zimmermann, go get ’em. If the Red Sox agree to left-hander Henry Owens for Zimmermann, say bye-bye.
Thing is, if one of those deals were to happen, it probably would have happened already. None of them was ever likely for a player entering his free-agent year. None is likely now.
Rizzo’s phone will be ringing this morning, ringing with inquiries, ringing with offers. He should smile, put his feet up on his desk and utter the GM’s equivalent of, "Go ahead, make my day." With his owner’s blessing, of course. Assuming his owner gave him the rest of the plan.