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January 19, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats sign Max Scherzer; What’s next?

Baseball’s big news this holiday Monday is that the Nats have signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer to a contract reported to be roughly $210 million over 7 years.

What does it mean for the Nationals, this year and beyond? I feel like I’m at the end of the first act of a play, waiting to judge the play until I’ve seen the rest of it. The move could be a win-now move or a win-later move, depending on what happens next. Do the Nats sit tight with an overloaded pitching staff? Or do they try to deal one of their other starters, as they’ve been rumored to be looking to do all winter.

  • Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs describes the Nats with Scherzer as a potential “super-team.” Pitchers with records similar to Scherzer’s during their age 27–29 seasons have gone on to average 22 wins above replacement during their age 30–36 seasons.
  • Dave Cameron of FanGraphs explains that the deferred money in Scherzer’s contract means that the $210 million obligation is costing the Nats only about $170 million in today’s dollars.
  • Garrett Hooe of Federal Baseball breaks down Scherzer’s pitch selection and location.
  • Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post sees the signing as a big improvement for the team.
  • Rob Neyer of Fox Sports cautions that teams that have won 96 games have a strong tendency to regress, so we shouldn’t assume that the Nats will be better this year.
  • Grant Brisbee of SB Nation looks for, and finds, cautionary tales—teams that appeared to be shoo-ins for pennants or World Series that went on to disappoint.
  • Jonah Keri of Grantland looks at some of the potential ripple effects if, for example, they move Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister.
  • One of the rumors that started floating shortly after the Scherzer signing was announced was that the Nats are now making Stephen Strasburg available. Jeff Sullivan looks at the enormous haul of prime prospects that a Strasburg trade might yield.

How does the Scherzer signing compare with a potential signing or extension of Zimmermann? My own view is that Scherzer is the better long-term risk. Yes, Scherzer is older and has pitched more innings, but Zimmermann has had Tommy John and lives more on control than on missing bats. Strikeouts and whiffs are fairly good predictors of a pitcher’s long-term prospects.

The other thing I think I’ve learned is that the Nats actually are willing to spend money to win. That’s assuming, of course, that they don’t dump the extra salary costs by trading off other assets. One of my big uncertainties about the team is how committed the ownership is to winning. This signing is a positive indicator—perhaps the best indicator we’ve seen since the Jayson Werth signing four years ago.

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