In a National League East where no team has emerged as the clear front-runner, it would be a mistake to altogether rule out the Washington Nationals on May 17. However, if you had to make an assessment today, you'd guess that the Nationals are too top-heavy of a team to buy at the trade deadline.
Make no mistake, there are some pieces on the Nationals that remind you how they won a World Series title two years ago.
Even though Juan Soto has been somewhat underwhelming by his standards, he and Trea Turner are still one of the best duos in Major League Baseball. Heck, Josh Harrison is having something of a career resurgence, although that's probably cancelled out by the fact that both Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber - two offseason additions - have underwhelmed to this point.
Meanwhile, former World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has made just two starts in 2021, a year after totaling just five innings. Former All-Star Patrick Corbin impressed in his start last Thursday, but has struggled for the most part this year, with a 6.19 ERA in seven starts in 2021.
It's safe to say that the rest of the league is circling around the Nationals, who have a slew of interesting trade candidates - Harrison, Brad Hand, Ryan Zimmerman, Jon Lester - if they choose to sell. At the forefront of that discussion, though, is arguably the most dominant player in franchise history, Max Scherzer.
A three-time Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is in the final season of a seven-year/$210 million deal that's aged about as well as you could possible ask for. He's perhaps no longer at the height of his powers, but Scherzer's 2.10 ERA and 3.08 FIP in eight starts suggest he is still among the game's best arms.
"A source close to Scherzer" suggested to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand in April that the seven-time All-Star may be willing to consider a trade if the right contending situation presents itself this summer. Scherzer will have to sign off on any deal this July, given that his 10-and-5 rights give him a full no-trade clause.
It would be a difficult decision for the Nationals, as Scherzer is arguably the most accomplished player that the team has had since moving from Montreal prior to the 2005 season. For that reason, we're going to guess they'd rather not trade him to a division-rival, such as the Atlanta Braves. Still, here are five potential landing spots for Scherzer, should Mike Rizzo and company ultimately decide to trade him:
Boston Red Sox
To the surprise of many, the Red Sox have jumped out to an early lead in the American League East. A big part of that has been excellent starting pitching. Nick Pivetta, Martin Perez and Garrett Richards all have ERAs under 4, and advanced statistics actually suggest that Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez have been much better than their back-of-the-baseball-card statistics suggest. Still, if this team finds itself at the top of their division around the July 30 trade deadline, a bonafide front-line starter like Scherzer would go a long way in helping them to win the American League East and potentially do damage in the postseason. That, of course, assumes that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom would be willing to push the chips to the center of the table a year after going 24-36.
St. Louis Cardinals
If the Nationals do trade Scherzer, the guess here is that they'd prefer to do it to the American League, where he'll be out of sight, out of mind for their fans. But the Cardinals are the class of a bad division, and could probably use another starter to slot in between ace Jack Flaherty and any of John Gant, Kwang Hyun Kim, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez. The Cardinals lineup is led by Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina, so they are an organization that should be in win-now mode. We'll see if president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and company operate that way this summer.
New York Yankees
Remember when the Yankees were seen as ahead of schedule when they reached the ALCS in 2017? Well, it's now 2021. Aaron Judge is 29, Gerrit Cole is 30, Giancarlo Stanton is 31, DJ LeMahieu is 32 and Aroldis Chapman is 33. This is a team built to win a championship this season. Offseason pickup Jameson Taillon hasn't delivered the impact the team expected thus far, and two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber probably isn't a No. 2 on a contending team at this stage of his career. Scherzer could be the missing piece that helps the Yankees return to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox don't absolutely need to add a starter, because Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease have all been excellent. The team could probably bank on positive regression from Lucas Giolito and/or Dallas Keuchel to win the American League Central, but may need to make another impact addition to be a legitimate World Series contender. Scherzer would certainly represent that, giving them an option to start against someone like Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of a postseason series.
Toronto Blue Jays
After sneaking into the postseason last year, the Blue Jays added former World Series MVP George Springer on a six-year/$150 million deal. Despite the fact that a quad injury has limited Springer to just four games thus far in 2021, the Blue Jays are 22-17, very much in the mix in the American League East. Led by American League MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays will have one of the deepest lineups in the sport once Springer returns. If you added Scherzer to the top of the team's rotation with Hyun-jin Ryu, the Blue Jays would have a legitimate chance to win the American League East and make noise in the postseason.