Nats Win More Than One Way With Scherzer

Almost a year ago, enough of baseball thought Max Scherzer might be a little crazy for spurning the Detroit Tigers' $160 million contract extension offer in favor of playing the market to come. Now more than half of baseball seem to think both Scherzer and the Washington Nationals were crazy like foxes.

Free agency is a crapshoot. Scherzer gambled and won big enough. The question before the house, however, is how much the Nats stand to win or lose with Scherzer aboard. And the answer just might be that Scherzer wins big but the Nats win ridiculous.

First, about Scherzer. He not only won a very dicey free agency gamble but he and the Nats were smart enough to break the $210 million contract down so that Scherzer will earn $15 million per year over the 14 years to come.

Oh, he'll see a lot of money now, too. That $50 million signing bonus, for one, likewise to be spread over a few years. And $15 million a year is nothing to mourn whether or not Scherzer is on the mound for the next fourteen years. But how many professional athletes in position for a gigabucks payday think beyond the now, however long the now lasts?

Scherzer was going to get his big payday no matter what. Even if it wouldn't quite equal the one Clayton Kershaw got last year with his yummy extension.If the Tigers were willing to cut bait on him after last spring's extension rejection, no matter how acute their pitching needs, there were teams who would be more than willing to make Scherzer a happy camper.

Now, about the Nats. They had a pitching problem on their hands that needed a solution swift and smart or at least a lever they could operate to resolve it. Not to mention the potential problem they had elsewhere on the field.

Jordan Zimmermann can take his first taste of free agency after the 2015 season. Doug Fister's free agency comes then, too. Stephen Strasburg can take his first taste after the 2016 season. Until convincing Scherzer he can be happy in Washington, the Nats were looking at the very real possibility of losing three top arms for nothing in return. Not to mention losing infielder Ian Desmond and outfielder Denard Span after '15 and for the same return.

With one masterstroke the Nats went from question jugglers to sitting on Pretty Street, as a lady named Jane Ace once warbled on the radio. They can just about call the trade dance any time they want to, and to their advantage.

The smart word has it that Desmond isn't quite satisfied with just a $107 million contract offer from the Nats, and that Zimmermann — who often says he wants to stay in Washington — might actually prefer to play closer to his native Wisconsin.The Nats can think about moving either or both to bring aboard needed reinforcements.

Before the Scherzer signing, the Nats looked somewhat on the dubious side when they swapped their solid setup man Tyler Clippard for shortstop Yunel Escobar. They must have thought they were working a little leverage with Desmond while possibly planning for Escobar to play second base with Asdrubal Cabrera gone to Oakland.

Good luck with that. Escobar was once a formidable defender and might still have a way to get that back. But he's also considered, shall we say, less than a clubhouse jewel, and on a team that's proud of its clubhouse ambience there's a calculated risk right there. They're obviously not that confident in Danny Espinosa's future and signing Dan Uggla to a minor-league deal is probably a desperation-backup resort. Even with the rumor mills grinding over Desmond being involved in trade talks with the Mets.

There's even been speculation that Strasburg himself could be a trade subject. Was it that long ago that Strasburg was the talk of the nation as a number-one draft pick? Was it that long ago that the world went nutshit over the Strasburg Plan following his recovery from Tommy John surgery? Was it that far past that people blamed the Strasburg Plan (erroneously) for the Nats cratering in the 2012 division series?

Strasburg's been an above-average pitcher flashing signs of greatness whose most glaring problem has been losing his command here and there. Even two years ago nobody could think of Strasburg as anything but a Nat. That was then. This is Scherzer Time. And, of course, the trade talk could be just talk and the Nats could also stand pat right now and put only the best looking starting rotation in the National League on display and the mound.

Think about that. This may not quite be a group of Hall of Famers in waiting, but how many teams have virtual sixth starters as good as Tanner Roark?

Scherzer is 30. Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark, and Gio Gonzalez have had best-season win totals of fifteen or higher, and all those have been in the past three years. Two (Scherzer and Gonzalez) have been 20+ game winners. And these guys can strike hitters out without breaking sweats.

The Nats could decide just to think about Roark as bait for reinforcements. They could decide maybe Zimmermann and Roark could get them some lovely and needed returns. They could do likewise regarding, maybe, Zimmermann and Fister. Or even Strasburg and Zimmermann. They need bullpen reinforcements as well as a little middle infield and outfield help, and it wouldn't hurt if that help also happened to bat left-handed with authority, too.

Bet Max Scherzer didn't think wrapping his arms and his financial future around the Nats was going to put the Nats into that powerful a position of strength. If he leads the Nats to the Promised Land in 2015, music to Nats' fans and other ears alike, Scherzer will make general manager Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner look like both halves of Albert Schweitzer.

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