Can the St. Louis Cardinals sign Max Scherzer?

Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on May 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on May 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are in the market for starting pitching this winter. Is Max Scherzer?

Max Scherzer is a free agent this offseason, and he turns 38 years old next summer.  Most players in that situation would be looking at retirement or, at best, a one-year deal, possibly with plenty of incentives based on staying on the field.

Max Scherzer is not most players.

With Carlos Martinez, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Kwang Hyun Kim, and Wade LeBlanc all exiting the Cardinals roster at the end of the 2021 season, multiple starting rotation spots are up for grabs.  While Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, and Miles Mikolas are locks for three spots if healthy, there will be strong competition for the remaining two openings.

No disrespect intended to Dakota Hudson, Alex Reyes, Johan Oviedo, or Jake Woodford, but none of them is Scherzer.  Of course, none of them would cost what Scherzer would, which certainly will be a big factor in whether the Redbirds will have a chance to sign him.

It’s well known that Scherzer is a St. Louis native.  He was born in the Gateway City, went to high school in the suburbs, and attended college two hours west of Busch Stadium at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO.  Talks of a Scherzer homecoming have been ongoing for several years.

While his preferred destination at last July’s trade deadline was said to be the West Coast – and indeed, he ended up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers – was that a short-term desire, and would Scherzer be interested in playing for the hometown team?

Again, dollars will be a significant determining factor, and the Cardinals would have to stretch their comfort zone to work out a deal.  Given his age, my original thought was a two-year deal would get it done, probably for a record-setting annual average value, so $73 million total, putting him $500k ahead of Gerrit Cole‘s $36M per-year rate.

However, Scherzer’s continued excellence most likely changes the calculus.  In 2021, he made 30 starts and went 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 179-1/3 innings.  During his time with LA, he was 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA, leading the Dodgers’ charge to the playoffs.  Time has been very kind to Scherzer.

Given the expected strong competition for his services from the Dodgers and quite likely several other teams – the Angels and Giants being among them – the Cardinals almost certainly would need to add a third year to secure Scherzer’s services.  And that record-breaking AAV would still be necessary.

I’m predicting a three-year, $110M contract for Scherzer, whether from the Cardinals or another team.  St. Louis can include the hometown angle and a lower state tax rate as part of their pitch to woo the dominant right-hander, but in the end, they’re going to have to pony up the cash if they want to bring Scherzer home.

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The Cardinals are shedding a lot of salary this winter.  Reinvesting it in this ace hurler would be a great way to boost their odds of a return to the playoffs in 2022.  Let’s see if they will make it happen.