ST. LOUIS – Max Scherzer is undoubtedly one of the most decorated MLB pitchers ever to hail from the St. Louis region. A World Series title, two no-hitters, three Cy Young awards and eight All-Star nods are among his accomplishments.
At 39 years old, the Chesterfield native is currently with the Texas Rangers and amping up his recovery from injury in hopes to pitch in the postseason and earn a second World Series title.
Scherzer has one year remaining on his current contract, and his future beyond that is a bit uncertain, but his career in-large has proved astounding. Some baseball enthusiasts even recognize Scherzer among the Top 100 baseball players of all-time.
What if Max Scherzer could have played for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals? It hasn’t happened over his 16-year career, and the Cardinals have twice passed on Scherzer in free agency, 2014 and 2021.
New comments offer renewed perspective into perhaps what might have transpired during Scherzer’s first go-around of free agency.
On Tuesday, just two days after the Cardinals ended the 2023 season last in the NL Central and oftentimes sparse of quality pitching, Randy Karraker of 101 ESPN’s “The Opening Drive” claimed that the Scherzer had reached out to Adam Wainwright during the 2014 offseason.
Scherzer ultimately ended up with a seven-year, $210 million deal from the Washington Nationals. According to Karraker’s comments on “The Opening Drive,” Scherzer reportedly told Wainwright he would be interested to know if the Cardinals would counter with a deal “in the ballpark” of his Washington offer.
Karraker adds that Wainwright reached out to someone within the organization, but a deal never materialized. In fact, Karraker’s account and other reports from over the years seem to suggest the Cardinals weren’t aggressive in the first opportunity to unite with Scherzer for the long haul.
While Tuesday’s comments certainly stirred the pot among Cardinals fans on social media, especially those critical of the front office after a disappointing season, the “what could’ve been” case with Scherzer has been revisited several times in the past.
Derrick Goold, lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reshared an article from 2015 on Wednesday that hinted the Cardinals weren’t “active” in pursuing Scherzer and manager Mike Matheny even saying “there is “there has to be a line you draw” in reference to not signing Scherzer.
Bernie Miklasz, currently an analyst for ScoopsWithDannyMac.com, shared a report via 101 ESPN in 2017 that hinted Scherzer could have pitched in St. Louis. He doubled down on that stance in 2019, and said via 101 ESPN that Scherzer “wanted to pitch [and] finish his career” in St. Louis, even if at lower cost than his Washington contract.
So it’s not necessarily a new theory that Scherzer could have joined the Cardinals, but it definitely seems to take on more meaning on the heels of a season when the Cardinals statistically had one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. St. Louis finished 24th out of 30 in ERA and in the lower quartile of teams for many other pitching metrics.
Perhaps the hesitancy to sign Scherzer, possibly to what would’ve represented a team-record contract, was based on the Cardinals future outlook and output from years prior.
Heading into the 2014 offseason, the Cardinals enjoyed arguably Wainwright’s best season and had some solid rotation options around him. They had savvy veteran John Lackey for one more season after a trade deadline deal, Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn had offered consistent production for several years, and Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez projected as future rotation stars. And the team just drafted two future rotation pieces in Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson.
Starting pitching depth looked promising at the time, and the Cardinals even managed to win 100 games in 2015 with Wainwright sidelined for most of the season. Fast-forward six years, by the time Scherzer moved onto his next deal, Wainwright was the only one still with a permanent role in the Cardinals rotation.
The Cardinals, whether for better or worse, had a decision to make when Scherzer first hit free agency nearly a decade ago.
The argument for taking a chance on Scherzer
He was coming off two really strong years in Detroit, which led to a 39-8 record, a 3.03 ERA and a 2013 Cy Young Award. Getting production close to that could give the Cardinals more pitching star power and a dominant 1-2 combo of Scherzer-Wainwright for several years. Perhaps it could help alleviate strain from younger rotation and bullpen pieces as well.
The argument against taking a chance on Scherzer
At the time, the Cardinals had yet to offer a contract above $100 million to a pitcher and were perhaps praised for avoiding potential risks of long-term deals. The Cardinals had to consider whether they felt confident if the value of a long-term deal would hold up while Scherzer was mostly pitching in his 30s. And as previously mentioned, pitching depth appeared stronger on paper at the time when Scherzer was first available for the long haul.
Scherzer then became available again in 2021 at the age of 37, once again leading to the Cardinals to the conclusion that the risks outweigh the rewards. Scherzer is now on his sixth team with the Rangers and seems to be trending closer toward the end of his pitching career.
All in all, the “what if” case of Max Scherzer and a possible reunion continues to be an intriguing point of debate, especially with most of Scherzer’s finest years of his career coming in Washington.
The Cardinals should be weighing this recent history lesson into potential offseason plans if pitching is indeed a priority for them this offseason. Goold suggests the Cardinals could try to pursue Minnesota’s Sonny Gray and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola in free agency, both currently competing in playoffs and coming off fine seasons, but perhaps to a lesser degree of star power than Scherzer had in 2014.