With two days remaining until Major League Baseball's trade deadline, talks involving Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer are intensifying, according to MLB Network's Jon Morosi. Morosi notes that a trade could be reached before Thursday.
That Scherzer is an in-demand player is no surprise. In his first 18 starts this season, he's accumulated a 2.83 ERA (135 ERA+) and a 5.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Factor in his track record, including his past success in the postseason, and it's only right that teams are lining up to acquire his services for the stretch run.
Scherzer's suitors are said to include the three top teams in the National League West: the surprising San Francisco Giants, the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and the San Diego Padres. (SportsLine's oddsmakers deem those three teams to be the favored landing spots.) Scherzer, whose 10-5 rights allow him to veto any trade, has also indicated that his preference is to play on the West Coast, per a recent report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.
Assuming the rumors are proven correct -- that the deadline will not pass without Scherzer being traded to a NL West team -- it's worth wondering out loud: which of the three contenders needs him the most? Let's examine the case for each team before issuing our verdict. (Do note the teams are presented in order of their present standing in the division.)
The main components to evaluating Scherzer's impact boil down to who he would replace in each team's rotation and how much of a difference he could make in their playoff chances. In the Giants' case, the second point might arguably be as or more important than the first.
Coming into Wednesday, the Giants had a three-game lead over the Dodgers and a 5 ½-game lead over the Padres. By acquiring Scherzer, the Giants would be doing more than adding to their roster; they would be subtracting a potential difference-maker from either of those clubs. That's important for the obvious reason (each team should prioritize winning the division) and because it means they wouldn't have to worry about a scenario in which they fall behind either the Dodgers or the Padres in the division, only to then face Scherzer in the Wild Card Game.
As for who Scherzer would replace in the Giants rotation, they'd presumably stick with Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani, leaving them to choose between usurping Alex Wood, Logan Webb, and Johnny Cueto. Cueto would appear to be the low pitcher on the totem pole based on having the highest ERA, but these situations aren't always so cut and dry. For example, the Giants could ask Wood to move to the bullpen since he has more experience in that role, or they could let service time make their decision for them. Whichever route the Giants took, they'd have a strong starting five.
If there's one other element in play here, it's how the Giants would be wise to make the most of this unforeseen opportunity to win the division. Who knows if San Francisco's front office feels pressure to show its appreciation to the Giants' aging core in the form of a major deadline addition, but chances like these don't come around often and it's always nice when teams seize the moment. Fortune is said, after all, to favor the bold.
Unlike the Giants, the Dodgers have a very obvious need for another starting pitcher. Clayton Kershaw is on the injured list with forearm inflammation, Dustin May is out for the season following Tommy John surgery, and Trevor Bauer is on administrative leave as he continues to be investigated in a sexual assault case. Adding Scherzer would allow the Dodgers to remove either David Price, Tony Gonsolin, or rookie Josiah Gray from their rotation now, with another moving to the bullpen if and when Kershaw is ready to rejoin the starting five.
Otherwise, the same factors are at play for the Dodgers that are at play for the others: getting Scherzer boosts their odds of winning either the division or the play-in game, and keeps him away from their chief rivals. You could argue that the Dodgers are perhaps under less pressure than the other two clubs because they just won a championship, but an obvious counterpoint is that two is sweeter than one when it comes to cookies and rings alike.
Give A.J. Preller this much: he stays busy. If he can complete a trade for Scherzer -- and it may first entail him attaching a prospect to move Eric Hosmer's contract for luxury-tax purposes -- then he'll have traded for nearly an entire rotation in a year's time. (For those who have lost track, he's also acquired Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove.) Scherzer's addition would almost certainly lead to either Ryan Weathers being demoted (so that he can remain stretched out in the minors) or Chris Paddack shuffling off to the bullpen.
The same general points made about the Giants and Dodgers apply here. You do wonder if the Padres feel an impetus to keep the pedal to the metal given all the work they've done in assembling a legitimate contender. At minimum, they have to ask themselves: why stop now?
Different folks will have different interpretations of the concept of "need." For our money, we think the Padres have the most to gain on and off the field from acquiring Scherzer. Not only would he improve their rotation, he would position them to make the kind of postseason impact that would solidify their place among the game's elite -- and the same kind of postseason impact that the Dodgers and Giants have made in the not-so-distant past.