Max Scherzer, the ace of a free-agent class that included Jon Lester and still features James Shields, has agreed to a seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals, a source told Yahoo Sports late Sunday.
Financial details of the contract were unknown, but the deal could be worth as much as $200 million.
Assuming no complications in the final negotiations, the Nationals would place the right-hander near the top of a powerhouse rotation with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo could choose to trade one of his higher-end – and pricier – starters and slot 15-game winner Tanner Roark into the rotation, as well.
Scherzer, 30, won 70 games for the Detroit Tigers over the past four seasons, was 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA over the past two, and was the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2013, when he was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
Those numbers and that history appear good enough for the Nationals, who, at a time when long-term contracts for pitchers are considered risky, would be into Scherzer for one of the largest and longest contracts ever. Among pitchers’ contracts, Scherzer’s is expected to slot below that of Clayton Kershaw ($215 million, seven years) but at least with those of Justin Verlander ($180 million, seven years), Felix Hernandez ($175 million, seven years) and CC Sabathia ($161 million, seven years) and likely higher.
For the Nats, a favored landing spot for agent Scott Boras’ clients, Scherzer not only strengthens their hold on the NL East, which they won in 2014, but protects them against the possible departures of Zimmermann and Fister, who can be free agents after next season, and Gonzalez, who is under control for two more seasons.
The official loss of Scherzer leaves questions for the Tigers, AL Central champions for four seasons running but now without Scherzer, who’d grown into their ace, or Rick Porcello, traded last month to the Boston Red Sox. Verlander has become less effective in the past two seasons. The former Cy Young winner’s ERA spiked in 2014 to 4.54. The Tigers do return David Price (who cost them Drew Smyly in a trade last summer) in his walk year and Anibal Sanchez, who was limited by injuries to 21 starts in 2014, and this winter acquired Shane Greene from the New York Yankees and Alfredo Simon from the Cincinnati Reds.
Scherzer reportedly rejected a seven-year, $160 million extension offer from the Tigers last spring training.
Boras sold teams on what he called Scherzer’s “pitching odometer.” A long-time proponent of limiting young hurlers’ pitches and innings, Boras cited Scherzer’s pitch count – just under 21,000 – compared to Lester (more than 26,000) and Shields (approaching 30,000). The numbers in part reflect the differences in ages – Scherzer is 30, Lester 31 and Shields 33 – and suggest that all pitchers carry the same finite number of pitches in their arms. Including the postseason, Scherzer has thrown nearly 700 fewer innings than Shields and nearly 400 fewer than Lester.
Lester, in December, signed with the Chicago Cubs for $155 million over six years. Boras believed Scherzer was worth more than that, and indeed was thought to be seeking something close to the contract Kershaw received with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kershaw is younger and better, however. The Dodgers signed him to an extension before he reached free agency and still paid top dollar. Scherzer’s market, as a free agent, was broader and his value was as a so-called instant ace. He could have led rotations in Detroit, Boston, New York, Anaheim, Miami, Toronto or Houston. He would stand beside aces in Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington. And Scherzer has been durable, making at least 30 starts in six consecutive seasons and throwing at least 195 innings in four of them.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports: