On Wednesday night, Max Scherzer will make his Los Angeles Dodgers debut, just days after arriving with his new team (undoubtedly with a dream and his cardigan) through a trade with the Washington Nationals that also included infielder Trea Turner. Scherzer will be tasked with disposing of the Houston Astros in a matchup that simultaneously revisits aspects of the 2017 and 2019 World Series. (The Dodgers lost to the Astros in '17; the Nationals (and Scherzer) defeated the Astros in '19; and oh, by the way, the Astros were punished for a sign-stealing scandal in early 2020.)
Scherzer's impending free agency is one of the main reasons he was available in the first place. It's fair to wonder, then, how likely he is to reach the open market. After all, the last time the Dodgers swooped in on a big name -- one Mookie Betts -- they subsequently signed him to an extension before he so much as played in his first game with the team.
Scherzer isn't putting pen to paper between now and his first pitch with Los Angeles, and we're not certain that it's going to happen before this winter, either. Below we've laid out three reasons why we think Scherzer is still heading for free agency.
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1. The Dodgers' uncertainty
This may sound odd considering how reliably good the Dodgers have been over the past decade (they've won the division each year since 2013), but they have a lot to sort through this winter.
The Dodgers are going to have to make numerous course-altering decisions over the coming months. Franchise staples such as starter Clayton Kershaw, closer Kenley Jansen, and shortstop Corey Seager can all hit the open market. Ditto for utility player Chris Taylor and relievers Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson. The aforementioned Turner is only a year away from a massive payday himself, and Cody Bellinger has a date with free agency the winter after that.
(There's also the matter of Trevor Bauer. He remains under investigation by both the police and the league after being accused of assault. Those allegations are infinitely more important than any of the nonsense we're dealing with here, and we're not going to trivialize or minimize them by discussing him within a baseball context.)
It's fair to write that the Dodgers have a lot on their plate this winter. The decisions they make will impact next season, but they'll also have a direct effect on what happens two, three, maybe even four years down the road. That's always true to some extent, of course; the difference is that it seems more possible than in the past that they proceed without Kershaw (who has publicly said he's unsure if he'll stick around), Jansen (who is having a rougher year than his ERA indicates), or even Seager, whose loss would be offset by the Turner acquisition.
It's at least conceivable that a change of guard is coming in Los Angeles for the first time in a long time. Scherzer might still make sense within that movement -- he could theoretically slot into Kershaw's spot in the rotation, albeit not his place in franchise lore -- but it's anyone's guess what that entails and whether or not it even happens. Might another World Series championship change whatever plans the team has in store? We'll find out soon enough.
2. Scherzer's last dance
Regardless of what the Dodgers have going on, there's another party involved with a say in the matter. Scherzer, who'll turn 38 years old next July, might be signing his final contract.
The significance of that could shape what Scherzer looks for this winter. Maybe it's still the most money, or the longest term, or some combination thereof. Maybe it's joining a team with a chance at another World Series ring, or perhaps it's because of some geographical desire -- be it to stay on the West Coast, the way he wanted it this July, or to return home to Missouri and suit up for a team closer to home (the St. Louis Cardinals, in all likelihood).
If that sounds like little more than speculation -- well, yeah, that's the entire premise of the article. Only Scherzer knows for sure what he values most heading into the winter, but he owes it to himself to at least test the open waters one last time before making his decision.
3. League-wide precariousness
We shouldn't overlook one other factor: it's unclear if there will even be a 2022 season, or what rules will govern it.
Until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached, be it this winter or into next year, we won't know what the Competitive Balance Tax threshold will be (though we can assume it'll increase to somewhere between $212 to $216 million based on the past), and so on. This isn't meant to inspire fear or anxiety or anything of the sort; it's just the reality of the situation: the unknown aspects about next season could well impact how teams approach this winter, perhaps resulting in more conservative behavior.
On the bright side, a widely held assertion is that the inverse would be true the winter following a new CBA ratification, with teams then spending dough more freely. It's probably safe to assume the Dodgers will be in the thick of it, whether Scherzer is still around or not.