MLB

Max Scherzer trade grades: Dodgers ready to defend World Series title after six-player swap

The Los Angeles Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions, intend to defend their title. They proved as much on Thursday, agreeing to a blockbuster trade with the Washington Nationals that will net them righty Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner as part of a six-player swap that will send four prospects back to D.C.

Scherzer and Turner join an already-stacked Dodgers roster, with Scherzer providing a much-needed rotation boost and Turner qualifying as a luxury at second base. The Nationals, conversely, have jump-started their rebuild by plucking a couple top prospects in return.

We here at CBS Sports are the judgmental kind, if little else. As such, you’ll find our instant-reaction grades for both sides of this trade below. It should go without saying that this is more of an art than a science. First, let’s reprint the reported terms of the deal:

Now, let us proceed to the hot air and general gas baggery.

Dodgers grade: A

The Dodgers entered Thursday trailing the San Francisco Giants by two games in the National League West. It’s to be seen whether or not the Dodgers can catch or surpass San Francisco over the coming months, but it’s clear they aren’t resting on their laurels after last year’s title.

Scherzer, an impending free agent who turned 37 this week, is a wise addition for the Dodgers for a couple of reasons. For one, acquiring him keeps him away from the aforementioned Giants and the San Diego Padres — the two teams the Dodgers are fighting for the division, and perhaps their future postseason opponents. For another, it improves a rotation that is currently without Clayton Kershaw (though he should soon return from the injured list), Dustin May (out for the season following Tommy John surgery), and Trevor Bauer (on administrative leave while the police and the league investigate abuse allegations).

Scherzer proved he was healthy in a Thursday start against the Philadelphia Phillies after suffering an injury last week in batting practice. In his first 19 outings this season, he accumulated a 2.76 and a 5.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For reference, his ERA+ would rank second among active Dodgers starters, behind only Walker Buehler

Looking for a Fantasy breakdown of the Scherzer/Turner blockbuster? CBS Sports’ Fantasy Baseball Today podcast has you covered with an emergency episode. Listen below:

The Dodgers’ need for Turner is less obvious. They already had a pretty good shortstop, in Corey Seager, and he’s due back from a fractured hand any day now. As a result, Turner is expected to slide over to second base, a position he hasn’t played since 2016. 

There are two interesting subplots worth monitoring with Turner, but let’s recap his season before we address those points. In his first 96 games this season, he’s hit .322/.369/.521 (146 OPS+) with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases (on 24 tries). Predictably, those numbers were good enough for him to make his first career All-Star Game. Alas, recent times haven’t been as sweet for Turner, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, delaying his Dodgers debut. 

Now, how about those subplots?

The first pertains to how Turner will be used this season. Again, he’s likely to slot in at second base, but that sets off a chain reaction elsewhere on the roster. It means that Max Muncy has to move over to first base, which means Cody Bellinger is freed up to be a full-time outfielder. (And, the Dodgers can only hope, a more productive hitter.) That, in turn, means the Dodgers will probably be starting Bellinger, Mookie Betts, and A.J. Pollock in the outfield most days. The effect of all that moving and shaking is that the roles of several overexposed players — Albert Pujols, Matt Beaty, and Luke Raley — are likely to be reduced in one swoop. That’s nifty.

The second pertains to how Turner will be used next year, his final season of team control. Seager is a free agent this winter, and you have to wonder if the Dodgers intend to replace him at the six with Turner. It’s probably too early to worry about such things — and Lord knows the Dodgers can afford to keep Seager if they so desire — but Andrew Friedman has always done a good job of keeping one eye on the present and another on the future, dating back to his days in St. Petersburg. In due time, this might prove to be another instance of that.

Long story short, Turner is a dynamic player who can pitch in across the board at a high level, and who gives the Dodgers additional flexibility heading forward, within this season and next. The Dodgers had to make the uncharacteristic move of parting with multiple top prospects to get the deal done, but it’s easy to understand why — and it might just allow them to repeat as champions.

Nationals grade: A

There’s an argument to be made that the Nationals deserve a lesser grade for grabbing just two top-100 types in exchange for Scherzer and Turner. We get it. Unfortunately, this appears to be the reality of the marketplace these days. Teams simply aren’t willing to give up value for a half-year rental anymore, even if they’re Max Scherzer. That fact suggests that Turner’s year-plus of remaining team control is responsible for the package looking as good as it does. This trade does, at minimum, net the Nationals two ready (or near-ready) pieces who should help Mike Rizzo kickstart what’s become an overdue rebuild. 

Ruiz, 23, has been held as one of the top catching prospects in the minors thanks to his adequate defense and his impressive ability to put bat on ball (he struck out in less than seven percent of his 2019 plate appearances). This year, however, he’s already set a new career-high in home runs, with 16 in 52 Triple-A games. Ruiz’s power gains have been accompanied by a dramatic shift in his batted-ball profile, with his groundball rate dropping from over 44 percent to around 24 percent. If that holds at the game’s highest level, it’ll make him even more interesting. He should be the Nationals’ everyday catcher sooner than later.

Gray, 23, only recently made his big-league debut as the Dodgers were running low on starting options. He has a great feel for throwing strikes for a relative newcomer to the mound (he didn’t pitch until his sophomore year of college), as well as a well-rounded arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball, two breaking balls, and a changeup. Gray had a 2.87 ERA and an 11.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four Triple-A appearances. He could slot into the void left by Scherzer and serve as a mid-rotation starter for the Nationals for the foreseeable future.

Carrillo, 22, is what scouts might describe as a toy cannon. He’s a short right-hander with good stuff, including a mid-90s fastball and a slider. His command isn’t nearly as promising, as he’s walked 93 batters in his last 169 innings. There’s a significant amount of relief risk here, then, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s moved to the bullpen before he debuts.

Casey, 25, has hit .296/.362/.462 with 11 home runs and 15 steals (on 19 tries) in Double-A this season. Those marks aren’t as impressive as they appear at first blush when you consider that he’s nearly a year older than his average competition, or when you notice he has a 30 percent strikeout rate. There’s a chance Casey could develop into a spare outfielder at the big-league level; a more pragmatic evaluation, though, has him serving as organizational depth.

In addition to Scherzer and Turner, the Nationals also sent out relievers Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson, as well as outfielder Kyle Schwarber on Thursday.



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