Over the last two decades, it’s been rare to see a team in the nation’s capital win. Recently, the Nationals have been winning, at least until October. But now, management wants a title, and they’re willing to pay for it.
I, along with many others, have questions about signing 30 year-old baseball players to long term deals. These contracts sometimes pay off in their earlier years before players lose their edge as they near their forties. Other times, they don’t work out at all. But, you would be hard pressed to find a situation where a player produces $30 million performances during the twilight of their careers. And yet it seems this is what the Nationals are buying into with the signing of Max Scherzer.
Scherzer and the Nationals recently finalized a deal that will pay the 30 year-old right-hander $210 million for seven years of baseball. The contract includes a $50 million signing bonus and has half of the money deferred, meaning the Nats will be paying Scherzer $15 million each year for the next 14 years. Scary? Yeah.
Yes, this contract is very, very large, but Scherzer is no small fish. The 2013 American League Cy Young winner won an AL-leading 18 games last season with a 3.19 ERA. Scherzer also struck out a career-high 252 batters. Whether the former Tiger can repeat as the league wins leader is yet to be seen, but there is no indicator that he is close to the end of his prime. This should sit just fine with the Nationals.
Washington has led the National League in wins in two of the last three seasons. They are a team with few, if any, gaping holes in their lineup or rotation. The Nationals have everything from young stars to gritty, productive veterans, and have found ways to play winning baseball from April to September.
October has been a different story. Heartbreaking NLDS losses against the Cardinals and Giants in 2012 and 2014 respectively pushed the organization away from complacency during the offseason. Each year, the front office has looked to sign a player to put the team over the top in the playoffs with little success. Washington is trying again with Scherzer, a proven commodity near the height of his powers with little visible downside except for, of course, his price.
This signing made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that the Nationals are aware of their volatile title window and want to start winning when it counts, as many have already expected of them. Yes, there were certainly cheaper players on the market. No, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for management to assume that the team that has already achieved success would find their way through the playoffs this year. But, the Nationals organization is showing fans what they already knew: they want to win before the pieces in place start falling away.
Is this move going to be beneficial five years from now? Almost surely not. But Washington is building for a title run in the near future. The Nationals believe that a trophy will make the following decade of $15 million payments worth it, and being a fan myself, I have to agree. Usually, I have questions about signing 30 year-old baseball players to long term deals, but I’m done living a title-less existence. As far as anybody can tell, this is a step closer to a World Series, and I’m more than happy with that.
Photo: Ryan Hyde/Flickr