It's widely expected that the Washington Nationals will move ace Max Scherzer prior to Friday's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. That means his Thursday start against the Phillies (WAS 3, PHI 1) was very likely his last in a Nats uniform.
If that's the case, then he went out in fitting form:
At the command-and-control level, it wasn't quite vintage Scherzer, but the one run allowed across six frames certainly was. This is also notable and promising for both Scherzer and the Nats:
All of that is notable because the 36-year-old Scherzer was scratched from his last scheduled start with triceps discomfort. Given that the Nats have been aggressively shopping Scherzer, perhaps you might think it unwise to trot him out for a start the day before the deadline. However, you can also see it as a calculated risk to prove to interested teams that he's fully healthy.
The results and especially the velocity readings strongly suggest he is. With that start, the three-time Cy Young winner this season has now pitched to a 2.76 ERA with 147 strikeouts and 28 walks in 111 innings.
After the game, Scherzer said he felt good physically, and he also sounded very much like a player who knows he's about to be traded.
"It's been a very fun experience for me being in D.C.," he told reporters, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. "What can you say about the fans? That's where that championship will always mean something to all of us."
Scherzer wasn't dancing around the idea that he might be done as a National. Said "it is what it is," and acknowledged that he's never been traded in season so he doesn't know what's coming either. Sounded like a guy on his way out the door, which shouldn't be surprising.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) July 29, 2021
Whatever the next 24 hours or so holds, Scherzer will go down as a Nationals franchise legend. Over his seven-plus seasons with D.C., Scherzer went 91-47, put up an ERA of 2.80, won two of his three Cy Youngs, averaged 222 innings pitched per 162 games, and authored a WAR of 38.5. That's a Hall of Fame peak, and that's to say nothing of the fact that Scherzer was essential to the Nats' championship run of 2019. He'll one day have his number retired in Nationals Park, and it'll be with good cause.
As for his future, the Nats are not contending this season, and Scherzer is in the final year of a $191.4 million contract (a contract that turned out to be a bargain from the team standpoint). That's why he's probably going to be traded -- well, that and the fact that at age 36 he's still among the best starting pitchers in baseball.
If the rumors are any guide, then the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Red Sox all have significant and actionable interest in Scherzer. Given that Scherzer has a no-trade clause and thus has significant control over the process, it seems likely he'll be sent to one of those presumably approved destinations. If anything, Scherzer's effort on Thursday only intensified their efforts to land him.