Max Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas this past Spring that if there are to be discussions about an extension that will keep him in D.C. beyond 2021, it would be up to the club to start those talks.
Scherzer, 36, was headed into the sixth season of the 7-year/$210M deal he signed with the Nationals back in January of 2015 at the time of the comments, so the topic wasn’t really as pressing at that point as it is now.
“Obviously, there is a time and place to think about that,” Scherzer told NBC Sports.
“It’s really [for] the team to come to you to drive those conversations. And, so, for me, I’ll cross that bridge when a team wants to pick up the phone.”
In the abbreviated, 60-game 2020 campaign, the 13-year veteran put up a 3.74 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, 23 walks (3.07 BB/9), 92 strikeouts (12.30 K/9), and a .260/.319/.424 line against, with a slow start to the season after things shut down in mid-March, and ramped up again in July, but a solid late run when he felt like he finally found his groove.
Max Scherzer, Pretty 85mph Changeup (release/slow). pic.twitter.com/JH6HyLrI9V— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 20, 2020
Scherzer wasn’t thrilled with the results, but he was determined to assess what went wrong this winter and come back strong in 2021.
“I’m going to have to go through the offseason and really try to evaluate — and look at these at bats — of how guys are approaching me, how they’re attacking me, what’s working, what’s not in certain situations, so that next year, when I come back I can pitch more efficiently from the get-go and not have to try to wait till my 12th start before I finally feel good,” the three-time Cy Young award-winner explained.
“That’s always the challenge every single year, but that’s the fun part of this, that you have to go back and reinvent yourself, because the rest of the league is going to be finding ways to attack me, to be able to do everything they can to beat me, so you’ve got to match that type of mentality back at them.”
“Max finished strong, and he looked good,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters when he spoke on a Zoom call this week. “And I talked to Max and he said he really started at the end getting in that groove where he really felt like things were going to take off.”
“I told Max, ‘Hey, lesson learned. Build off of that. Get yourself strong again, get ready to go, and we play that 162 games and you get your 30-something starts and we go from there.”
Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo, in his own Zoom call on Tuesday, said that he liked what he saw from Scherzer on the mound and in the clubhouse in 2020, and he knows the righty well, having drafted him when he was scouting director in the D-backs’ organization in 2006 before signing Scherzer as a free agent in 2015.
Max Scherzer, Filthy 89mph Cutter. pic.twitter.com/bRZUESMqdQ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 26, 2020
“I think his stuff is as good as it’s ever been,” Rizzo said.
“It’s different than it was when we first signed him. It’s way different than when I drafted him in ‘06. He’s a guy that’s a chameleon.
“He changes as his career moves on. He’s always coming up with a way to beat you. He’s such a competitive person.
“But I do like that the velocity was where we wanted it to be with his fastball for the most part last year. His slider/cutter and curveball, and changeup were all good pitches.
“I think it was a matter of consistency and routine for him when he struggled a little bit. And the bar is so high with Max that anything but excellence is regarded as a failure.”
Scherzer’s 3.07 BB/9 in 2020 were the highest he’s posted since his third season in the big leagues back in 2010, and his 1.34 HR/9 (10 in 67 1⁄3 IP) was the highest HR/9 he’s had in his career, tied with the 1.34 HR/9 he gave up in 2010, but the 2020 campaign was an odd one, and the Nationals’ ace is hardly the only pitcher who didn’t seem fully themselves this year.
“He grinded through a season last year,” Rizzo said.
“He was the leader of that team, and as far as last year I think he led more than he ever has, because he was the voice of this team with the COVID protocols and other things, so I think that Max — I think he ages very, very well, his delivery works for him, and he’s such a workaholic type of preparer that I see him being successful for years to come.”
If that’s his assessment, has Rizzo discussed the possibility of an extension that will make sure Scherzer pitching in D.C. beyond the upcoming season?
“We haven’t had any substantive conversations about an extension for Max to my knowledge,” Rizzo said.
“Now that could be on the ownership level, but to my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet.”
“When we get to Spring Training,” he continued, “when we get to see each other each and every day that sometimes changes, but we will keep all our options open and Max is a Hall of Fame pitcher that’s earned that respect.”
Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said when he held his yearly Winter Meetings media scrum on Zoom this week, that with the situation his client is in, contract-wise, it is usually up to the club to start any discussions.
“Normally what we do is we kind of, in that setting, we kind of wait for the ownership to talk with us about it,” Boras said, as quoted on MLB.com. “[Managing principal owner] Mr. [Mark] Lerner and I have had a few conversations, and we’re going to get together, you know, after the new year, and have some discussions, so we’ll see how that goes.”