The Nationals seem very unlikely to trade Max Scherzer (and his broken nose), but with them holding the 11th-best record in the National League and being five games under .500, rumors are starting to swirl. Ken Rosenthal discussed the possibility of a trade, mostly laying out the reasons why a deal was unlikely. While Scherzer trade proposals might be more fantasy than reality, determining his trade value is more reality-based, even if more of an academic pursuit.
A year ago, when constructing the Trade Value series, Kiley McDaniel put Max Scherzer at No. 41, and he indicated the difficulty surrounding a player like Scherzer.
Some small market teams like Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay could technically afford $22 million through 2021 then $15 million through 2028 for three years of Scherzer — it’s a huge but not insane part of their payroll — they would just never actually do that. So with all of those teams off the board and most of the middle-tier teams choosing to use their money with more of medium-term outlook, the market for Scherzer appears as though it would be limited. Also, he turns 34 this month and will decline at some point, even if he’ll punch me for saying that.
All that said, for big-market contenders that needs an ace in the playoffs, a 6.5-WAR pitcher may have the impact of a 10 WAR pitcher if deployed in a certain way during the postseason. And some orgs can stomach the $15-22 million tab, regardless of how long it runs, for that kind of impact over three postseasons. A trade-value list for just the Yankees may have Scherzer 20 spots higher, but this list is for a little bit of everyone. I feel like Dave and I did the math here similarly, as I moved him down eight spots from the 2017 edition of this series, based mostly on aging.
Assessing a generic trade value for a player like Scherzer is a problem because the market for Scherzer’s services is a small one, but among the teams that might be interested, the value to those teams would be higher than a standard analysis might provide. Scherzer’s value to the Nationals complicates matters further. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s start with some generic projections for Scherzer, incorporate his salary, and estimate that the value of a win is around $9 million.
|WAR||$/WAR||Present Value||Present Salary Value||Net Value Today|
|TOTAL||14.6||$127. 1 M||$55.8 M||$71.3 M|
So what does that trade look like? Based on my prospect value research, that is probably something like a prospect ranked around 20 plus another at the back end of the top-100. For the Dodgers, that’d be like Dustin May and Will Smith. For the Astros, Kyle Tucker and Corbin Martin might get close. For the Braves, Cristian Pache and Bryse Wilson might be a good pair. The Padres and Rays could put together multiple options that would match the value above. Most other clubs couldn’t even get there without throwing a large pile of riskier or lower-floor prospects that the Nationals wouldn’t even consider without at least one high-end name. That doesn’t account for young major league talent that could be sent Washington’s way, but before we even get to that, we have to be more specific about Scherzer’s value, because if he is being traded, the proposals above are probably light.
The Nationals aren’t going to value Scherzer at a generic $9 million per WAR. While using one figure for league-wide dollars per WAR can be helpful in determining the average spending habits league-wide, teams have different budgets and different needs in terms of winning now versus later that affect how much they might be willing to pay a player in free agency or trade. We don’t look at the offenses of the Astros, Twins, and Dodgers with a wRC+ of around 120 and pretend that they are at 100 because that’s what league-average is. The average is helpful in setting a baseline, but teams with ability and desire to spend more generally do so. For example, the Washington Nationals annually carry a $200 million payroll, don’t have much of a farm system, and have a lot of star-level talent on the major league roster. As presently set up, the Nationals are very much in win-now mode. Even if the club were to fall completely out of contention, trade Scherzer, and not sign Anthony Rendon, they would still be looking at around $100 million in returning players including Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner. That’s a decent core to try and contend with, and then they could use all the extra salary room to go out and get players to help them contend… except those players wouldn’t be as good as Max Scherzer.
The team could trade Turner and Soto and completely rebuild, but given the quality on hand and the ability to spend, the Nationals are extremely likely to want to contend the next few seasons. That means any team trying to deal for Scherzer isn’t just trying to beat the offer of another team as they also must beat the Nationals’ internal valuations of what he might be worth to them. When the White Sox traded Chris Sale, his value to the club was as a trade chip in winter 2016 versus a trade chip in July 2017 versus a trade chip in winter 2017 because the White Sox’s window to contend extended beyond those years. Scherzer as part of a contending 2020 Nationals team likely has considerably more value than Scherzer as a trade chip in the winter or next summer, and that makes moving Scherzer more difficult.
If we bump up Scherzer’s dollars per WAR to start at $12 million, which is likely a closer approximation of his value to the Nationals as well as any payroll-rich club with an open window to contend, the valuation comes out like this.
|WAR||$/WAR||Present Value||Present Salary Value||Net Value Today|
|TOTAL||14.6||$170.4 M||$55.8 M||$114.6 M|
Instead of a prospect ranked in the top-20 and one ranked somewhere else in the top-100, we are now talking about needing two top-20 prospects, not unlike Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, to land Scherzer. A Fernando Tatis Jr. or Wander Franco one-for-one is an interesting proposition, but almost impossible in reality as teams giving up stars tend to spread out the risk a little. Now, the equivalent trade from Houston includes Forrest Whitley and Tucker. A Braves trade of Austin Riley and Pache still might not be enough. The same is true for MacKenzie Gore and Luis Urias. Maybe Keibert Ruiz and May. The Yankees would have to start any offer with Gleyber Torres and the Red Sox would need to offer Andrew Benintendi. Given the club’s finances and window to contend, Scherzer’s value to the Nationals is incredibly high.
The Nationals aren’t a team heading for a rebuild with one really good trade asset. Max Scherzer isn’t a pending free agent or a veteran with a bad contract. Trading Scherzer isn’t realistic absent a massive change in the Nationals’ desire to contend. Most teams don’t even have the necessary players to make a worthwhile trade offer. The team that ends up with Scherzer is the team that wants him the most. For the foreseeable future, that team is the Washington Nationals.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.