On Monday, the Washington Nationals signed former Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract. This led the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga to conclude that the Nats are now the favorite to win the 2015 World Series.
Svrluga joined Doug Tribou to make his case.
DT: Barry, the Nationals have made the playoffs two out of the last three seasons, but were eliminated each time in the first round. How does Scherzer’s addition make the team World Series contenders?
[sidebar title="Bud Selig's Legacy" width="630" align="right"] With his run as commissioner coming to end, we looked back at Bud Selig's legacy.[/sidebar]BS: Max Scherzer's the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner. He was the prize of the free agent class this year. The $210 million he received is a record for a right-handed pitcher.
Clearly one of the best pitchers in the game. And he's added to what was arguably the best rotation in the game. The Nationals without Scherzer last year led all of baseball with a 3.04 ERA in their rotation, so it's a strength added to a strength, and that's the kind of starting pitching that gets you through the regular season. It doesn't guarantee anything in the postseason, but that's the kind of thing that can put you over the top.
DT: You point out that only three pitchers have won World Series rings after signing a nine-figure deal. You’ve been warning your readers since at least November that $100-million contracts for pitchers have proven to be risky. Can you give us some examples of pitchers who flamed out after signing for big bucks?
BS: Mike Hampton, who signed a big deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2001 would be a perfect example. That was a terrible place to pitch. He was never worth $100 million there. He had ERAs over 5.0 and 6.0 in his two years in Colorado, and it was just a disaster. But there's other ways to evaluate it as well. CC Sabathia is one of those pitchers who won a World Series under a nine-figure deal. He won it in 2009 with the Yankees, his first year after signing there as a free agent. And, mission accomplished.
Well, now Sabathia's on the back-end of that deal. He made only eight starts last year because of knee problems. People don't know if he'll ever be the same again, so how do you evaluate that? Did it do it's part, because he won the World Series while he was under that contract, or are they paying too much for him because he's not serviceable anymore?
DT: It's not like the Nationals’ starting rotation was hurting for pitching. You've got Stephen Strasburg, of course. The rotation was already one of the best in baseball. Any of those guys ready to move to the bullpen now?
[sidebar title="When Washington Ruled Baseball" width="630" align="right"] Fred Frommer joined Bill Littlefield in September to share the story of the 1924 Washington Senators. [/sidebar]BS: Well, they'll move probably the fifth starter, who last year was a rookie, a guy named Tanner Roark. He had an exceptional 2014 — went 15-10 with an ERA under 3.0. That was really unexpected. He wasn't a prized prospect like any of the other guys in the rotation were. But he'd be the guy to move out of the rotation.
Now they'll have some shifting in years going forward. They're likely to lose Jordan Zimmermann to free agency in this coming offseason because they won't have room for Scherzer's contract — and Zimmermann's expected to be a $150 million contract at least — under the same roof. So Roark would have an opportunity to be an impact in the rotation in the future.
DT: The Washington Capitals have one of the NHL’s great stars in Alex Ovechkin, and have failed to win a title with him. The city’s NFL franchise had a terrible season, not to mention the ongoing nickname controversy. The Wizards are having a great year in the NBA, but I'd like you to explain how the Nationals have changed the sports scene in D.C.
[sidebar title="Wizards On The Rise" width="630" align="right"] With young stars Bradley Beal and John Wall, the Wizards have a bright future. [/sidebar]BS: It's giving another opportunity for heartbreak, in a way. This is a town that has struggled for sporting success. They haven't had a championship since the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season.
The Nationals served as kind of a beacon of hope initially, because this is a town that hadn't had baseball in 33 years. They've been here for 10 years. They are one of the best franchises in baseball, but until this town wins a title, I don't think anyone around here will believe they're capable of it. But I would say that this Scherzer move has created the most offseason buzz since it got here 10 years ago.
This segment aired on January 24, 2015.