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Max Scherzer to LA: Was it Worth it?

On July 29, 2021, The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals.

The full deal saw the Dodgers sending two top prospects in return: catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-handed pitcher (RHP) Josiah Gray. The deal also included two other prospects, outfielder Donovan Casey and RHP Gerardo Carillo.

Due to the potential being lost, some Dodgers fans are left wondering whether the trade was worth it. So, let’s talk about it.

The Prospects

In hindsight, the deal is slightly controversial. Gray and Ruiz both have potentially bright futures ahead of them in the majors, and Scherzer only served as a rental for the Dodgers. While giving away two top prospects for 11 quality starts from Scherzer may not seem like it was the best idea, it did contribute to the Dodgers nearly winning the division. They fell just one game short after a grueling race with the Giants.

Further, the Dodgers can deal with the loss of Ruiz. They already have an excellent young catcher in Will Smith, who is under team control through 2025. In addition, they retained catching prospect Diego Cartaya, who projects to debut some time in 2023.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post

In the case of Gray, the loss is a bit more severe. With Dustin May currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Clayton Kershaw potentially leaving the team in free agency, Gray’s presence may be sorely missed.

However, notable pitching prospects Ryan Pepiot and Bobby Miller are both projected to make their major league debuts this season. With the Dodgers’ impressive track record in pitching development, it is possible they will make up for this loss as well.

Prospects come and go over time. The game is constantly evolving and sometimes a team chooses to make a win-now decision. While the loss of Gray and Ruiz is palpable, the Dodgers chose what they ultimately felt would win them another championship. That being said, the question still remains: was it worth it?

Scherzer’s Performance

At the time of the trade, the Dodgers were 62-42. They were three games back from the Giants and struggling with injuries. The Dodgers’ record after the trade was 44-14, winning 18 of their final 21 games. While the Dodgers did not end up finishing in first place in the NL West, the race came down to the final game of the season.

Image courtesy of Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This was in large part due to Scherzer’s contributions to the team. In just 11 starts, Scherzer pitched 68.1 innings, owning a 1.98 ERA with 89 strikeouts in that timeframe. In addition, he allowed just 8 walks and 5 home runs, garnering an absurd 11.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Batters who faced him collectively hit .198/.220/.295, with his best performance coming against the San Diego Padres on September 12, 2021. Through 8 innings and 92 pitches, Scherzer allowed just a single hit. Scherzer collected nine strikeouts, and zero walks en route to the 3000th strikeout of his career.

This performance came at the heels of yet another great start, in which he pitched a 13 strikeout game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Over 8 innings, he allowed just one run on six hits.

Scherzer also played a critical role in the Dodgers’ postseason run in 2021.Over 16.2 innings, he allowed 4 runs and collected 23 strikeouts. Most prominent of these innings was his relief performance in the ninth inning of game five of the NLDS against the division-rival Giants. He retired the side in order with 2 strikeouts, leading the Dodgers into the NLCS.

While he was not a Dodger for a long time, he was certainly an impactful player in the organization during his tenure. 

Enter Trea Turner

Image courtesy of Michael Owens / Getty Images

Turner has also proved essential to the Dodgers’ organization. With Corey Seager gone, the Dodgers no longer have to find his replacement. Turner is under team control through 2022, and it is likely the Dodgers will look to extend him.

Turner had an excellent 2021 season, winning the NL batting title in the process. In 52 games with the Dodgers, Turner batted .338/.385/.565. He accrued 2.5 WAR in that timeframe alone. To put that into perspective, if he had played at that pace for 162 games he would have put up a near 7.8 WAR season.

Unfortunately, Turner fell off in the postseason and only hit to a .216/.245/.255 batting line. His postseason struggles extend beyond just the 2021 season, however. He has hit .228/.274/.287 in the postseason for his career.

While those numbers are worrisome, there is no doubt that Turner is a highly talented player. It is still possible for him to sort out his postseason woes and prove himself come 2022.

With elite speed and contact tools, Turner projects to be the highest WAR player in the Dodgers lineup in 2022 according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections.

So, Was it Worth it or Not?

The answer is a bit complicated. From the Dodgers’ perspective, the deal was the right move. They gained a legend in Scherzer for the final push of the season, as well as a safety net for Seager’s departure in Turner. 

The deal served as a breath of fresh air for a battered Dodgers team. The Dodgers would still have been a considerable threat without them. However, injuries sustained during the regular season were a weak point for the Dodgers heading into the postseason.

Most notably, the loss of May towards the start of the season and the loss of Kershaw right before the end put major holes in the starting rotation. 

Image courtesy of G Fiume / Getty Images

With this in mind, Scherzer becomes essential to the 2021 Dodgers team. Turner makes up for his lack of longevity with the organization. Both are superb talents in the game and contributed a great deal in the final few months of the season.

The caveat to this lies in the future of Gray and Ruiz. Should they blossom into young stars, the Dodgers may wish they had not been so hasty to part with them. 

Scherzer and Turner’s presence on the Dodgers was necessary for their push to the NLCS. Gray and Ruiz just might prove the Dodgers wrong one day, but until that point the trade appears to be justified.



Featured image courtesy of  Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

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