Scherzer, Nats still not talking contract ahead of opening day

Opening day brings the hope of a new baseball season. Not even a positive COVID-19 test can change that.

“We’re gonna play tomorrow night,” confirmed general manager Mike Rizzo on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon after announcing the unfortunate, but not devastating, news.

What opening day does not bring, however, is any clarity on Max Scherzer’s future contract situation with the Nationals.

After the conversation switched to more baseball-related topics, Rizzo was asked if he talked to Scherzer at all during spring training about a possible contract extension for the right-handed ace.

Max Scherzer blue sidebar.jpg“I have not. We have not spoken about it,” replied Rizzo, the same answer he gave when pitchers and catchers reported to West Palm Beach back in mid-February.

When asked if the discussion could take place even after opening day, Rizzo left the door open.

“We haven’t discussed it,” the GM said. “We see each other every day and I’m sure the topic will come up some day in the near future.”

And when asked to clarify previous comments that those discussions could take place directly between Scherzer and Nationals ownership, Rizzo offered: “We’ve had no conversations with Max about an extension.”

When Scherzer takes the mound against the Mets on Thursday night, he will not only kick off the Nationals’ 2021 regular season, but also the final season of the then-record-setting seven-year, $210 million contract he signed in 2015. A free agent signing that is widely considered one of the best in professional American sports history.

Scherzer is 84-43 with a 2.80 ERA and 1,463 strikeouts in 170 starts and 1,118 innings over his first six seasons with the Nationals. He has two Cy Young Awards, been named an All-Star every season, won a World Series championship, thrown two no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game, and has led the league numerous times in many different statistical categories during his time in D.C.

Rizzo is not oblivious to the correlation between Scherzer’s success and the ballclub’s.

“We go where Max takes us,” said Rizzo. “He’s gonna set the tone for this season. He’s our No. 1 starter and he’s the guy that’s done it year in and year out, not only for us but for a lot of teams.”

Scherzer himself is well aware of that correlation, too, and even more aware of the growth he has made in D.C. not just as a pitcher, but as a person.

“On and off the field, so much. I really have grown up here in D.C.,” Scherzer said during his own Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “On the field, I’ve continued to evolve as a pitcher, continued to add pitches and just refined everything I’m able to do on the mound. And off the field ... my family’s grown so much over the years here with my wife. Now we have two kids and a third on the way. Just that work-life balance, it’s a lot different now than it was in 2015. I have a different perspective on life and a lot more patience than I did in 2015.

“So, yeah, these years in D.C. have been great. I’ve grown up, I feel like, several times throughout the game. Coming up through Arizona to really growing up in Detroit to even further maturing here in D.C., baseball’s been a heck of a ride for myself and my family.”

For those of you who don’t wish to reflect on Scherzer’s time in D.C. as if it were near the end just yet, don’t fret: Rizzo was also clear that those discussions would take place one way or another before the future Hall of Famer could possibly leave town.

“He will not become a free agent without us at least discussing what each other wants.”

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