An NL West arms race between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres appears to have played out in real time Thursday. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal had reported that the Padres were close to a deal to acquire Scherzer earlier in the afternoon, only for the Dodgers to swoop in with an even bigger deal that included Turner.
Scherzer has reportedly approved the deal and waived his no-trade rights.
The prospect package headed back to the Nationals will be headlined by catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray, who recently made his major-league debut. They will also receive right-handed pitcher Gerardo Carrillo and outfielder Donovan Casey, per the Washington Post's Jesse Dougherty.
If the blockbuster is completed, two of the game's elite talents will join the defending World Series champs. They are in a daunting NL West race with the Padres and the division-leading San Francisco Giants. The battle to win the division and avoid the NL wild-card game will have huge implications for three of baseball's best teams.
A tug of war over Max Scherzer
After missing a start with a triceps issue, Scherzer demonstrated his health with six innings of one-run ball against the Phillies on Thursday.
The three-time Cy Young winner is a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the generation’s best pitchers. He gutted through back problems to help the Nationals win their first World Series in 2019, and will now jump back into a pennant race to complete one of the most fruitful free-agent contracts in the history of baseball.
Yes, he turned 37 this week, but Scherzer still breathes fire. His fastball averages over 94 mph and he has MLB’s third-best strikeout rate among qualified pitchers. He’s also running a 2.76 ERA. The combination of Scherzer’s no-trade protection and Washington GM Mike Rizzo’s historical inclination against selling at the deadline had made a Scherzer deal seem extremely unlikely as recently as a week ago.
But in the past few days, more and more signs started pointing to Scherzer moving. His preference for a West Coast contender clearly signaled his eagerness to dive into the three-way tangle of NL West titans.
Turner in the midst of a breakout
The 28-year-old Turner made his first All-Star Game this year and has generally leveled up his offensive game over the past two seasons. Since the beginning of the shortened 2020 season, he’s batting .326/.378/.545 with 30 homers and 33 steals in 154 games.
It’s MVP candidate production from a player who is still under team control through 2022.
The move would happen under strange circumstances. Turner left a game vs. the Phillies Tuesday night after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s in MLB’s mandatory protocols.
If he were to land on the Dodgers, it could have implications for current Los Angeles shortstop Corey Seager, who is a free agent after this season. Turner is under team control through 2022.
Dodgers make the big splash
The Dodgers, still the favorites to win the World Series at BetMGM, have struggled to overtake the Giants in the NL West. A loss Thursday afternoon dropped them three games back.
Scherzer and Turner add to an already ridiculous bounty of talent on the Los Angeles roster as they try to claim the division crown and make a repeat World Series run. Before factoring in the deal, FanGraphs gave them a 61.1% chance of winning the NL West.
The pursuit of Scherzer was perhaps especially pressing for the Padres. Sitting 5.5 games back of the Giants entering Thursday, FanGraphs gives them only an 11.4% chance of storming back to win the division — and at BetMGM their division odds are up to +450. That means the October run many envisioned for the up-and-coming team would have to go through a one-game playoff, likely against another NL West rival.
Padres GM A.J. Preller has earned a reputation as baseball's most aggressive deadline dealer, and as San Diego sits in third place he again appeared dedicated to making the biggest splash to supplement an offseason pitching revamp that hasn't brought them even with the Dodgers or the Giants. Yu Darvish sports a strong 3.27 ERA, but has struggled mightily in July. Fellow winter acquisition Blake Snell is having the worst year of his career, as evidenced by a career-worst walk rate and 5.44 ERA.
In that way, the Dodgers seemed less urgent suitors for Scherzer — despite losing Trevor Bauer to administrative leave after he was accused of assault. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts could throw Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler in a wild-card game. The Giants, for their part, would likely trot out Kevin Gausman and his 2.21 ERA.
But now, Dodgers are upping the ante in pursuit of another title.
In addition to securing Scherzer for themselves, the Dodgers ensured they won't see Mad Max toeing the mound against them in October. Scherzer has a 3.38 ERA in 112 postseason innings. His last October performance was a defining one, as he gutted through debilitating back spasms to pitch five innings of two-run ball as the Nationals won Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.
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