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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Max Scherzer

Scherzer has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, but would he be a fit for the Yankees?

Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In terms of pedigree of pitchers available on the transaction market, you can’t get much higher than Max Scherzer.

After another great season in 2021, Scherzer now sits at eight top-five finishes in Cy Young voting, having taken home the award three times. He’s at 65.8 career WAR according to FanGraphs, is an eight-time All-Star, and has been a key cog in a World Series winning team. He’s done pretty much all you can do in baseball. So, should the Yankees make a run at him and try to shore up their rotation for 2022?

If you’re making a pro/con list on signing Scherzer, the first thing you should do is start the “pro” column and write down: “Is a really, really good pitcher.” Even at 36 (set to turn 37 next July), he is still one of the sport’s best. Last year, he put up a 2.46 ERA, 2.97 FIP, led the league in WHIP, H/9 and BB/9. Other than a blip in the shortened 2020 season where he was merely “very good” instead of “great,” there hasn’t been many signs that he’s slowing down.

However, if there are any cons, then age has to be among them. Scherzer’s contract isn’t likely to be a one-year deal like the one the Yankees reportedly offered Justin Verlander. The MLB Trade Rumors predictions projected him at three-years, $120 million. It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that he would get through three years and still be somewhere between a good and great starter.

On the other hand, since he is going to be 37, it also wouldn’t be unheard of for him to fall off at some point soon. Even if he doesn’t get that projected $40 million per year, he’s still going to get a large AAV. In theory, a contract that high backfiring shouldn’t put a big dent in the Yankees’ budget plans. However in practice, we know how the Yankees operate, and it would.

If you’re squinting, you could also criticize that Scherzer has now missed games in his last two playoff appearances due to injuries. In the 2019 World Series, he had to be scratched from a scheduled Game 5 start due to neck pain. This past year, he couldn’t go in what ended up being the Dodgers’ season-ending loss.

On the other hand, there is a flip side on both of those incidents. In 2019 after missing Game 5, he came back in Game 6 and gave the Nationals five good innings in a must-win game. This year, the “dead arm” seemed to be in relation to the Dodgers’ using him out of the bullpen in NLDS Game 5.

There’s also the valid question of even if the Yankees wanted Scherzer and were willing to pay top dollar, would he come? He was available at the trade deadline and despite a no-trade clause, he ended up moving to the Dodgers. Back in July near the deadline, there were reports that he wouldn’t waive his clause in order to move to the Yankees, preferring to go to a West Coast team.

Seeing as though he’s from Missouri and previously signed with the Nationals, the preferred West Coast destinations weren’t really a “wanting to be close to home” thing — it seems like it was more a “wanting to play for a contender” thing. Back around the deadline, the Yankees were on shaky ground in the AL Wild Card race. While the Yankees did eventually get into the playoffs, it was far from a sure thing — he was well within in his rights to guarantee that he would get to pitch in October baseball. If the Yankees go out and make some other big moves to shore up their roster, he might not be so quick to turn them down.

As good as he is, it’s hard to see the Yankees actually making a big effort to sign him. There’s been plenty of big names out there that they have been connected to seriously, but Scherzer hasn’t been among them. If they do drop a big money contract this offseason, it’s hard to imagine it would be on a 36-year-old pitcher, even one as prolific as Scherzer. At the very least, it would be cool to see one of, if not the best, pitcher of his era in a Yankees uniform.