Outside Max Scherzer or some unknown blockbuster dark horse, I don’t see a name for the Houston Astros to go after outside of Scherzer that would make a significant improvement on the rotation.
With the lack of needle-movers on the market, let’s turn our pining eyes back to the belle of the ball, Scherzer. I am sharing what you likely already know at this point. Scherzer is a 37 year old former three-time Cy Young Award winning right-handed starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals.
Currently in his fourteenth season in the league, he is an impending free agent after this season and has earned veto rights. The Nationals have slowly been slipping further and further out of contention in the NL East, going 3-7 in their last ten games. It’s generally believed that the Nationals will move him prior to Friday’s deadline.
That said, let’s get into some updates on the current situation with Max Scherzer. Foremost, he is having a Mad Max-like season, posting a 2.83 ERA and 142 strikeouts over 105 innings. However, Scherzer was scratched from his last start on July 24th against Baltimore due to minor forearm discomfort.
Scherzer did throw a complete 40-pitch bullpen session on Monday, Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post reports. It appears Max Scherzer will have to wait to see how his tricep feels after his session before he has a better idea of his status.
It further complicates things that, according to Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras, Max Scherzer is only willing to waive his no-trade clause if the prospective team is willing to sign an extension. There are some wild details surrounding his current contract situation, as well.
I could get into the nuts and bolts of the economics of it. The team that acquires Scherzer would not have to pay his salary this year, but would defer payments to a later year. However, this would not preclude a team from taking a Competitive Balance Tax, or more commonly know as “Luxury Tax”, hit.
Frankly, I am not sure where this leaves the rest of the league. Not many contending teams are going to give up premium talent for a potentially-injured, 37 year old pitcher to which they have to sign a contract extension with. Yet, that has not stopped teams from getting into the conversation. The Tampa Bay Rays, the Houston Astros’ competitor for the top of the American League this season, has entered the trade deadline talks like the Kool-Aid man.
According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, “The reigning American League champion Rays, long recognized for their ability to win with minuscule payrolls, have had preliminary discussions about both Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Chicago Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, league sources told ESPN.” Add the Rays to the list of tire-kickers that includes your Astros, Dodgers, White Sox, Red Sox, Mets, Padres…ohhh, and just about any team with post-season aspirations.
MLB.com’s Mark Fiensand reports that Scherzer also has a preference for playing on the West Coast, rather than the Astros.
While, as Feinsand indicated, would certainly change the landscape or the National League West, that really does not seem like great news for Houston sitting firmly not on the West Coast.
Finally, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that he expects the Washington National to make a move in regards to moving Max Scherzer within the next 48 hours. My best guess is this deadline is pushed up to give teams time to do their due diligence on the health of Max Scherzer and negotiate terms on an extension. With so many moving parts to this particular trade, I can’t imagine this one waiting until the Friday deadline.
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Looking at the state of the news and rumors surround a trade with Max Scherzer, it is seems like the Astros might not be in the best position to make a play at this point. In a previous appearance on The Sean Salisbury Show, Astros’ GM James Click said owner Jim Crane “has been very clear” to the front office that the $210MM mark “is not a hard line” the organization can’t go past.
Yet, I just don’t feel confident that this particular deal is going to get the green light to blow past the luxury tax line from Jim Crane.
I would expect that Houston will continue to have discussions around how to make the starting rotation better. However, I am holding firm in my belief that dealing for Max Scherzer isn’t the type of deal that James Click and the Houston Astros want to make at this point.
With no other elite options on the the market and last night’s dismal bullpen performance in Seattle, I’m sensing the main focus for the team before Friday’s deadline is an elite bullpen arm.