As the rumors swirled on social media, Max Scherzer sat in the visitor’s dugout at Citizens Bank Park, feet propped up, watching the Washington Nationals play against the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the last six-and-a-half seasons, that’s been Scherzer when he’s not on the mound — chatting with his teammates, flipping a ball from hand to hand. When he is on the mound, he grunts with each pitch and struts when the third strike whizzes past. He’s been a pivotal part of Washington’s success, winning 92 regular-season games for the Nationals while leading them to a World Series in 2019.
Scherzer’s time in Washington appeared to be winding down Thursday, though, with reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers were on the verge of a deal to obtain the pitcher. A potential trade was not final as of Thursday evening.
But Scherzer blocked out that noise. He pitched the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies, allowing one run in six innings. Then he sat down for a press conference understanding the reality of the situation, but not necessarily knowing what to expect.
“The game of baseball can throw so many curveballs at you. I’ve never been in this situation in my career, going through all the hoopla right now,” Scherzer said, before he knew where he might end up ahead of Friday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. “This is new to me. I’ve only been traded in the offseason; I’ve never had to deal with this during the season.”
Scherzer was the highest-profile player Washington was prepared to move Thursday, but he wasn’t alone in the sell-off. Closer Brad Hand went to the Toronto Blue Jays, with 25-year-old catcher Riley Adams returning to the Nationals. Washington could still make moves to trade utilityman Josh Harrison, left fielder Kyle Schwarber and reliever Daniel Hudson before the deadline.
The Nationals haven’t been in this situation — selling at the trade deadline — since Scherzer joined the organization in 2015, signing a seven-year, $210 million deal. At that point, he already had an American League Cy Young Award to his name, earned in 2013. Adding Scherzer underscored the Nationals’ goal of winning a World Series by inserting more firepower to the rotation on a long-term basis.
He’s only added to his Hall of Fame resume in Washington, earning two more Cy Young awards, one in 2016 and another in 2017. The 37-year-old has made eight straight All-Star teams — barring 2020, when there was no Midsummer Classic. If his Washington career is done, he goes out with a 2.80 ERA, 1,610 strikeouts and a 0.962 WHIP across 1,229 innings.
“I put it on the line every single time,” Scherzer said. “I’ll give you everything I got, no matter what the situation is.”
That’s the pitcher general manager Mike Rizzo met in 2005, when Rizzo was a scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Scherzer was a soon-to-be first rounder at Missouri. Arizona wound up picking Scherzer with the 11th pick in the 2006 draft. The Detroit Tigers traded for Scherzer in 2009.
Then Rizzo had a chance to reunite with Scherzer in 2015, signing the starter in free agency in a franchise-altering move.
“Max and I have probably the closest, most unique relationship I’ve ever had with a player,” Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan. “I’ve seen him, his progression into becoming a Hall of Famer. So we have great dialogue on a daily basis, almost, with different subjects, baseball and alike. We have talked quite a bit over the past couple weeks of the possibility of being traded at the deadline, and he understands it, he gets it. And we want to make sure we do what’s right for Max and what’s right for the organization.”
In 2019, Scherzer and Washington achieved what they had envisioned all along — a World Series title. And while 2020 and 2021 have been downcast seasons in comparison, Scherzer will always have that ring. He already looks forward to reunions with that title-winning group in the future, and he understands the business side of baseball.
So while this seems like the end of Scherzer’s time with the Nationals, he isn’t focusing on the goodbyes so much as the good times. He sees the full picture, the accomplishments over the course of his six-and-a-half seasons, rather than the premature ending at the trade deadline.
“I don’t want to look at this as a negative thing, I really look at this as a positive thing,” Scherzer said. “I signed a seven-year deal here and we won a World Series. The first thing I said when I signed was, ‘I’m here to win.’ And we won. We won a World Series. That’s a lifelong dream come true.”