Earlier this month, I wrote that the Nationals should go for it. They were only a game above .500 but just two games behind the Mets for the NL East crown. Since then, the Nationals apparently haven’t won a game, and now they’ve traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers for top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray in addition to Donovan Casey and Gerardo Carillo. According to Jesse Dougherty and Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, the deal is expected to be made official Friday.
Like Jesse, hearing from multiple people familiar that this deal is almost done, only question is when it gets finalized. Nats aren't sure if that will be tonight or not. https://t.co/f2B2IzTwhC— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) July 30, 2021
There’s still another working day before the 4 p.m. deadline on Friday, but it’s hard to imagine that this deal gets topped. The 37-year-old Scherzer is still one of the best pitchers in the league. His 28.9 K-BB% ranks second in the majors, trailing only Corbin Burnes. In 105 innings this year, Scherzer has struck out 142 batters and pitched to a 2.87 ERA and 3.47 FIP. His performance in 2021 is right in line with his career numbers. In 14 seasons, Scherzer owns a career 3.15 FIP and boasts a Hall of Fame-worthy 63.7 fWAR.
Scherzer is a free agent at the end of the year and Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras has said that Scherzer would exercise his 10-and-5 unless the trade “[led] to something.” That something would be a contract extension. Boras later walked back that statement, but if Los Angeles tries to get Scherzer to retire in Dodger Blue, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Meanwhile, Turner is blossoming into a superstar in his own right. Over the past two seasons, Turner has slashed .327/.378/.546 in 679 plate appearances with 30 homers and 33 steals. Originally a first-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2014, Turner came to Washington in a three-team trade between San Diego, Washington, and Tampa Bay which saw Wil Myers go to the Padres. Turner doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2022 season.
An added wrinkle is that Turner was placed on the COVID-IL today. He will be ineligible to join the team until he completes mandatory quarantine and tests negative multiple times.
Adding Scherzer and Turner clearly makes the Dodgers better, but their acquisition of the heterochromatic ace has an added benefit. Earlier on Thursday, Jeff Passan reported that the division-rival Padres were finalizing a trade for the former Cy Young winner. Scherzer would have been just what the Padres needed to leapfrog the Dodgers in the highly competitive NL West. Like Los Angeles’s, San Diego’s rotation is deep but it has been gutted by injuries to Mike Clevinger, Adrian Morejon, and Dinelson Lamet. Not to mention that Blake Snell has been a disappointment as his FIP currently sits at a career-worst 4.58.
For the Dodgers, Scherzer improves a rotation that was supposed to be the best and deepest in baseball but has been decimated by injuries. After winning the fifth spot out of spring training, Dustin May had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Clayton Kershaw is currently on the IL with forearm inflammation. Tony Gonsolin and David Price have each spent extended time on the shelf. Recently acquired Danny Duffy is currently on the IL with a strained flexor.
Turner replaces the spot that was supposed to be filled by Corey Seager. The Seager, who has struggled to stay on the field in the past, suffered a broken hand in May when he was hit by a pitch. Shortstop has been filled by Chris Taylor, who is having another fine year at the plate, but taking him out of the outfield has led to a carousel of lesser options in the outfield. Luke Raley, Billy McKinney, and Zach McKinstry have all been sub-replacement. Cody Bellinger is currently rocking a 61 wRC+.
Their evaporated depth is one of the reasons the Dodgers are still looking up at the Giants in the NL West. After dropping Thursday’s rubber match in San Francisco 5-0, the Dodgers are three games back in the division and three games up in the Wild Card race. Los Angeles might have a three-headed monster in Scherzer, Kershaw, and Walker Buehler, but that doesn’t matter if they can’t chase down the Dodgers and lose to San Diego in the Wild Card game.
To get this amount of talent, the Dodgers had to give up two Top-100 prospects. According to MLB Pipeline, Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray rank 41st and 42nd in all of MLB. The 23-year-old Ruiz was Los Angeles’s biggest trade chip. The existence of Will Smith made him expendable in the system, but any other team would love to have him. The Nationals are getting a great contact hitter with emerging power and solid defensive tools. At Triple-A this year, Ruiz has hit .311/.381/.631 with 16 homers in 231 plate appearances.
23-year-old Gray recently made his MLB debut although his one of his two short outings was one to forget. Gray earned a 55 FV from FanGraphs and prospect experts praise his mid-90’s fastball. The young righty projects as a mid-rotation starter.
Gerardo Carillo is a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher with command issues. FanGraphs ranked him 17th in the Dodgers’ deep system. Donovan Casey is a 25-year-old outfielder who is striking out 30.5 percent of the time at Double-A.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.