Nationals, Max Scherzer finalize seven-year, $210 million contract
Forgive Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner if he got swept up in the scene.
Speaking after a news conference Wednesday to announce the addition — via a $210 million, seven-year contract — of 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Lerner was thinking big thoughts. After all, the club’s starting rotation, at least for the moment, also includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez.
"If they all stay healthy," began Lerner, whose father, Ted, is the team’s principal owner, "I guess it’s a possibility we may give up the fewest runs in National League history during a 162-game schedule, which is amazing."
Let the speculation begin, then.
Who will start on opening day, an honor that’s gone to Strasburg the past three years? How good could this staff be?
As it is, in 2014, Washington’s starters led the majors with a 3.04 ERA.
How far can those pitchers take the Nationals, who won the NL East in 2012 and again last season before bowing out in Washington’s opening playoff series each time?
And, perhaps most intriguingly, will general manager Mike Rizzo keep that group intact? Or will he wind up trading someone, perhaps Zimmermann or Fister, who can both become free agents after next season?
Until those last two questions are answered, Rizzo certainly shares Lerner’s enthusiasm for the current collection of arms.
"We’ll stack our rotation up with anybody’s in our division, our league and maybe in baseball," Rizzo said, "and compete against them."
Of course, things don’t always shape up on the field the way they do during the offseason.
The terrific Atlanta Braves group that included three Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz wound up with only one World Series championship. That’s one more than the Philadelphia Phillies won after assembling Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
Still, if that’s the discussion connected to the Nationals now, it represents a sea change from where this franchise stood a half-dozen years ago.
It was noteworthy to hear the word "winning" over and over Wednesday at Nationals Park, where the scoreboard displayed a "Welcome to D.C." greeting for Scherzer and his wife, and the diamond was covered by the afternoon’s dusting of snow.
This is a club that lost 100 games in both 2008 and 2009 and found it difficult to attract top talent in free agency, but the perception has changed.
"There’s no doubt about it," Rizzo said. "We’ve got a lot of good baseball people around here. We’ve got a lot of good professionals. The selling portion of it from five years ago to today is night and day. We certainly have no problem with players wanting to be Washington Nationals."
Asked what reasons led him to sign with Washington, Scherzer replied, "One: winning. I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot. When you look at the near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of."
The size of the contract probably didn’t hurt, either.
The 30-year-old Scherzer, who became a free agent after spending the past five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, received the most guaranteed dollars for a right-handed pitcher in big league history.
"I don’t play this game for money," said Scherzer, who was 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 2014, a year after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, "but yet at the same time, when you have an offer like that, it just makes you go, `Wow.’"
The deal includes a record $50 million signing bonus, of which $5 million is due this year and $15 million each in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The total payments of the contract are spread over 14 years, reducing the present-day value and making it palatable for the Nationals.
"If that didn’t happen, there wouldn’t have been a deal," Mark Lerner said. "We had to make it work for us financially. It was really my father and Mike coming up with a creative deal."
Because of the deferred money, the deal had a present-day value of $191.4 million, by Major League Baseball’s calculation. It counts as $28.69 million annually for purposes of the luxury tax, which uses a different methodology.
Lerner joked about Scherzer: "I want to ask him for a loan."