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Four Thoughts on the Astros' Reported Interest in Max Scherzer

Jim Crane has reportedly given GM James Click the green light to spend into luxury tax territory.
Jim Crane has reportedly given GM James Click the green light to spend into luxury tax territory.
Photo by Jack Gorman
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The latest odds to make the postseason for each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams came out on Monday, and right now, the Houston Astros are the third most likely team to participate in extensive October baseball, trailing only the Chicago White Sox (no odds posted, because they are a mortal lock to make the playoffs) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (-10,000, or 1 to 100, in plain English).

The Astros chances of making the postseason are currently posted at -2500 (or 1 to 25), which means there is a  less than 5 percent chance of them missing the playoffs, according to oddsmakers. So any trade the Astros would make at the upcoming July 30 trade deadline is not about mere survival. The Astros are already a true World Series contender, as is. Any deal they make is a "go for it" kind of move, and there would be no bigger move than, for the third time in four years, to go nab an ace-level starting pitcher.

According to a report from Michael Schwab, host of the "Schwabcast" podcast, the Astros are considering doing exactly that:

Trading for Scherzer, who ironically was on the mound starting Game 7 of the 2019 World Series in Minute Maid Park two seasons ago for the Washington Nationals, would be a blockbuster move, and without a doubt, the first signature salvo of James Click's brief career as Astros' general manager. So let's unpack a few thoughts on this exciting possibility:

How good is Scherzer right now?
Before considering the package the Astros would give up to get Scherzer (and make no mistake, it would  be a LOT, and would almost assuredly include one or more of the bright young pitching prospects already on the big league roster like Luis Garcia or Cristian Javier), here is what you need to know. On the field, Scherzer is putting together a typical Scherzer season, which is to say he has been dominant. If the season ended today, he would finish with the best WHIP of his career, at 0.886, and while he is certainly on the back end of his career at age 36, he shows no signs of slowing down. In the contract realm, Scherzer does have a somewhat messy contractual situation:

The other big factor in a deal is Scherzer’s complicated contract situation. Mad Max will earn roughly $34.5 million in 2021 before he hits the free-agent market this offseason. He has a no-trade clause, meaning he has a say for his trade destination, and he’s owed deferred money over the next seven years. Washington is on the books for $15 million for each year from 2022-2028, totaling $105 million. On top of that, Scherzer will be owed a bonus of around $7.5 million this September.

Also, it is likely that Scherzer may want a contract extension from whichever team trades for him, and with a full no trade clause, he has a lot of control in a deal getting done.

What did we learn from the Verlander and Greinke trades?
The two trades the Astros have made in recent seasons that would most resemble a Scherzer trade are the deal for Justin Verlander in 2017, and the deal for Zack Greinke in 2019. I would categorize both of those trades as successes, even though Verlander signed a two-year contract extension for 2020 and 2021 that saw him start a total of one game in those two seasons. In 2017, Verlander was a big key to the Astros winning a title, and Greinke helped the Astros to within three innings of another title in 2019, and within one game of an AL title in 2020. The key thing we learned from those deals are that (a) owner Jim Crane is very much willing to go all-in to win a title, and (b) it helps if the Astros are trading for more than just a rental of a few months, as Verlander and Greinke both had two seasons left on their deals following the season in which the trades were made. As outlined earlier, Scherzer is a true rental for a few months, barring a contract extension being agreed to along with the trade.

The calendar is different this time around
A couple administrative things to make note of here. First, the trade deadline is July 30 this year, not July 31. The reason is pretty simple. July 31 falls on a weekend this year, and the deadline typically occurs during the normal work week, so Friday, July 30 it is! Second, there is only ONE trade deadline now, and it is at the end of July. Previously, there was a second deadline at the end of August to trade for players who cleared waivers around the league (like Verlander in 2017). The second deadline no longer exists, so it is July 30 or bust for any trades.

Who will the competition be for Scherzer's services?
Any team with both playoff hopes and ample resources (money and trade chips) is probably already gauging the market with Washington, who currently sit at 43-49, 10 games out of a wild card spot. The most intriguing potential Scherzer landing spots, besides Houston, would be with the Giants or Dodgers, who are in a dogfight right now in the NL West, and the Dodgers are currently rolling without Trevor Bauer, as the investigation into sexual assault allegations against him is ongoing, resulting in MLB putting him on leave. Other possibilities for Scherzer would include the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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