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For a few hours on Thursday, it sounded as if the Padres might finalize a deal for Nationals ace Max Scherzer—just the sort of big, splashy move that the team has become known for in the hands of general manager A.J. Preller, and one that seemed like it might push them past the Dodgers in the NL West.
For a few hours.
Then the Dodgers came through with a bigger, splashier move, trading for Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, all at once shoring up their rotation, adding a versatile defender and putting one of the biggest deadline prizes out of reach for a division competitor.
The Dodgers will get Scherzer, who will become a free agent this winter, and Turner, who has one additional season of team control, while reportedly taking on the money owed to each. They’ll send the Nationals an impressive package that includes two of their top prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray, as well as outfielder Donovan Casey and pitcher Gerardo Carillo. That replenishes a depleted farm system for Washington. It gives a meaningful boost to the odds of winning not just the division, but the World Series, for L.A.
Scherzer is an ideal acquisition for the Dodgers—currently in serious need of rotation depth. They lost Dustin May to Tommy John surgery earlier this spring. Clayton Kershaw has missed most of this month due to forearm inflammation; Danny Duffy, the team’s other addition Thursday, is out with a strained flexor. And Trevor Bauer’s future with the team is uncertain as he remains on administrative leave while awaiting the next hearing in his sexual assault case.
This means that Scherzer, 37, provides a sorely needed starter who can be a front-of-the-rotation presence. Since signing with the Nationals at age 30 in 2015, he has been remarkably, almost historically, consistent. He has only posted an ERA above 3.00 once, in the chaos of the shortened pandemic season, and even that was a respectable 3.74. His strikeout rate has never dipped below 30%. He has won the Cy Young twice and been a finalist two more times. If he stays on this trajectory—and he’s shown few signs of anything otherwise—his thirties might be among the best of any pitcher for the age group. There are only two pitchers in history to strike out more batters between the ages of 30 and 36: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. (He used this season to pass Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan.) Scherzer was one of the most attractive rental options on the market and would have represented a serious upgrade for any contending rotation. But there are few places where the need was as immediately great as in L.A.
Turner, meanwhile, adds an above-average bat, speed, and defense. While he’s been a fixture at shortstop for the Nationals, he can also play center field or second base, and he’ll likely take over the latter position for the Dodgers after Corey Seager returns from his current stint on the IL. (The fact that Turner is under contract for next year, too, gives the team additional choices on how to approach Seager’s impending free agency.) This roster, known for its positional versatility, was already loaded with plug-and-play options. Turner only adds to them.
It’s a key move for a Dodgers team that has spent most of this season looking up at the first-place Giants and barely holding off the third-place Padres. All three teams are likely to make it to October given the lack of wild-card competition in the NL. Yet that leaves steep competition for the division title—none of these teams want to leave its fate up to a battle with one of the others in a single-game play-in. But the Dodgers’ chances of avoiding that now look better than they have all year. Besides the addition of Scherzer and Turner, some crucial players are scheduled to return soon from the IL (Seager, Kershaw, and Mookie Betts), which could make for a strong run through August and September. The Dodgers haven’t been in first place since April. But with this trade, good health and the right breaks, they could be able to regain the spot in the coming weeks.
Acquiring a pair like Scherzer and Turner requires parting with serious prospects. But the Dodgers’ deep system is built for that. Ruiz and Gray were the organization’s consensus top two prospects—but this farm remains full of serious talent even without them. Importantly for the Nationals, both have been in the majors this year, and they should be able to make an impact soon. That’s key as the team tries to load up on young talent: Washington is not in sell now mode so much as sell everything, right away, as fast as possible. (Earlier in the day, they dealt Brad Hand to the Blue Jays, and they later moved Kyle Schwarber to the Red Sox and Daniel Hudson to the Padres.) But with a focus on prospect talent like this, relatively close to the majors, they might be looking at what could be characterized as a short-term retool, rather than a long-term rebuild.
It’s a move that could shape the contours of the playoff picture of the NL West. And if the Giants and Padres feel pressure to respond with additional moves of their own, it could also shape the contours of what might be a chaotic, topsy-turvy deadline on Friday.
More MLB Trade Deadline Coverage:
• Yankees Boost Lackluster Offense With Anthony Rizzo Trade
• In Joey Gallo Trade, Yankees Bet the Farm on Another Slugger
• Rays Find New Sense of Urgency to Heat Up AL East Race
• Starling Marte Trade Is Win-Win Deal for Both A’s and Marlins