Could the Padres be a trade destination for Max Scherzer?

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Could the San Diego Padres be a fit for this future Hall of Famer?

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Padres are in pursuit of starting pitching and a high-leverage bullpen arm.

Padres fans have heard that before, on a nearly perpetual basis.

A.J. Preller has shown an innate ability to keep tabs on players he has once targeted (see Luis Arraez). With the team looking for pitching in their attempt at a World Series run, there is a name with championship pedigree that could be on the market, one which Padres fans may be familiar with.

Max Scherzer.

Padres fans will remember the tweet heard ‘round the fanbase, the words echoed throughout San Diego.

Now, three years later, the Padres are in a very similar situation. The team is once again linked to a starting pitching acquisition on the trade market, and has been rumored to be looking for a frontline starter. The Garrett Crochet rumors have been loud and clear, but as we’ve seen with the Padres’ organization, when a trade goes down, it usually happens out of the blue.

When evaluating what the Padres are in the market for, Max Scherzer checks off several of the boxes.

Is he a frontline starter?

Scherzer is not the same pitcher he was in his prime, but the former Cy Young Award winner is undoubtedly the kind of arm any team would want in a playoff rotation.

For his career, he has a 3.78 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 143 postseason innings, with a 28.7% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate. Holding opponents to a .208 average and .675 OPS throughout his postseason career is a daunting feat, but the veteran right-hander has succeeded in that regard.

Does he have playoff experience?

That goes without saying. Scherzer’s 143 postseason innings are the third most among active pitchers, trailing only Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.

Scherzer has pitched in the last three postseasons, making eight appearances (seven starts) as a member of the Dodgers, Mets, and Rangers.

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Would adding Scherzer push San Diego over the luxury tax?

In short, no. The Padres have roughly $10.2 million to spend before crossing the first luxury tax threshold, and adding Scherzer would cost them roughly $4.8 million in luxury tax commitments.

Therefore, according to the calculations, bringing in Max Scherzer would leave the Padres with roughly $5.4 million to address their bullpen (assuming there is nobody on the active roster sent out in a deal).

What would the Padres need to give up?

Looking back to the 2018 trade deadline, acquiring a frontline starter for a playoff push had had varying prices with regard to the return. To preface what any trade would require, it would depend on Scherzer’s performance this season. Last season, the right-hander went 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA (3.41 FIP) in eight starts after the trade from the Mets to the Rangers. However, he is yet to throw a pitch this season due to a herniated disc, but he will be making his season debut this weekend against the Royals.

But back to the prospect return. Between the 2018 trade deadline and the beginning of the 2024 MLB season, there were 23 trades for starting pitchers with half a season of team control remaining. Prospect returns varied, but if Scherzer performs to his career standards between now and the trade, the return for the Rangers might be comparable to the returns in the 2018 Nathan Eovaldi-to-Boston trade and even the 2022 Jose Quintana-to-St. Louis trade. Both of these trades involved top ten ranked prospects from organizations whose farm systems were ranked very differently. The Red Sox had the 23rd-ranked farm system at the time of the Eovaldi trade, sending their No. 6 prospect in, Jalen Beeks, to the Rays. The Cardinals had the 13th-ranked system at the time of trading for Quintana, and they would send a former No. 10 prospect in Johan Oviedo to the Pirates.

How does this relate to the Padres?

The Padres were ranked as the No. 4 farm system entering the season, and while they lost some prospect capital as a result of the early Luis Arraez trade, the team still has a promising farm. Having evaluated the previous 23 trades for rental starters and where the teams’ farm systems ranked at the times of the trades, a logical starting point for the Padres in a Scherzer trade would likely be a near-MLB ready top 20 prospect. Now, the Padres would not send away any of Ethan Salas, Leo De Vries, Robby Snelling, or Dylan Lesko, but since the Rangers have a pitching-heavy Top 30, the Padres would likely need to start with a positional prospect in the 10-20 ranking and then another young prospect to initiate a trade.

And the most important question: Would A.J. Preller hit send on this trade?

In all likelihood, the Padres and A.J. Preller know that they need to make the playoffs this season.

A lack of starting pitching depth has spelled doom for the team in their last four attempts at a World Series, be it through injuries (2020, 2021, 2023) or inconsistent depth (2022). An arm like Max Scherzer could be a valuable piece to the Padres with his playoff experience and leadership. This is the kind of addition that sounds like a move in A.J. Preller’s wheelhouse.

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