WASHINGTON -- The Nationals held a news conference at Nationals Park on Wednesday during which they introduced Max Scherzer, who agreed to terms on a seven-year, $210 million deal with the club on Sunday night, a contract that is the second largest for a pitcher in the Major Leagues behind Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
Even Scherzer sounded surprised that he was one of the richest players in baseball.
"It was jaw-dropping," he said. "You just can't even fathom it sometimes. You work so hard to put yourself in this position. For me, it's all about winning. I don't play this game for money, but at the same time, when you have an offer like that, it just makes you go, 'Wow.'"
Scherzer will wear No. 31, the same number he wore at the University of Missouri. He said he signed with the Nats because of their commitment to winning.
"I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot," Scherzer said. "When you look at near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of. ... I want to win and that's why I'm here."
The 30-year-old Scherzer was reunited with general manager Mike Rizzo, who worked as director of scouting for the D-backs when the club selected him in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Scherzer also rejoined manager Matt Williams, who skippered Scherzer at Double-A Mobile in 2007.
"Whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer's ability level, character and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between," Rizzo said. "We saw a player that we were extremely interested in. He fits all the criteria we're looking for in a Washington Nationals-type of player. He's good between the lines, he's a tough guy, he takes the ball, he gets after it, he attacks hitters. And then in the clubhouse -- magnificent teammate; in the community, [he] does nothing but impress everybody he touches. You can't ask for more. He's the type of guy we're looking for."
Scherzer's addition gives the Nationals arguably the best rotation in baseball, a group that includes Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. Last year, Washington's rotation led the Major Leagues with a 3.04 ERA. With Scherzer in the mix, it means that Tanner Roark will move to the bullpen and likely become a long reliever.
"We strengthened a strength," Rizzo said.
Scherzer was arguably the most coveted free agent this offseason. His big league career started with the D-backs, who sent him to the Tigers as part of a three-team trade in December 2009. Scherzer blossomed in Detroit, winning 82 games over five seasons and capturing the American League Cy Young Award in 2013.
According to Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner, the club entered the Scherzer sweepstakes after the new year. Half of Scherzer's seven-year deal with the Nats will be deferred; he'll receive $15 million per year for 14 years. That means he'll be on Washington's books through 2028. Scherzer's deal also includes a $50 million signing bonus to be paid out over an unspecified amount of time.
Rizzo and managing principal owner Theodore N. Lerner played a huge role in getting the deal done with Scherzer.
"If that didn't happen, there wouldn't have been a deal," Mark Lerner said. "We had to make it work for us financially. It was my father and Mike [Rizzo] coming up with that creative deal. Luckily, it worked out for everybody."
Said Rizzo: "It took some of our brightest and best people in our office and in our ownership group to put this deal together that allowed us to sign him. Because without the structure of the deal the way it is, we don't get this player here. … Just because in a straight seven-year deal, it would not have fit."
With Scherzer on board, there are all indications the Nationals are planning to keep the team intact, which means Zimmermann, Fister, Strasburg and shortstop Ian Desmond are expected to be with the team at the start of Spring Training. All four players have been mentioned in trade discussions.
"That's Mike's call, but right now, this is the team that is going to Spring Training. We are hopeful they will be here by Opening Day," Mark Lerner said. "The numbers are unreal these days, [Scherzer] was a guy we looked at and said we had to make a run at him. We didn't know we were going to get him. We were honored by the comments that he made. The way he views the organization makes us feel good by what we are doing and how we are building it."
One person who is pleased with the rotation is Williams.
"For us, it's about the fact that Max wanted to be here, and that's a testament to the guys on our club and his teammates and the coaching staff and the organization, and he wanted to be here," Williams said. "As we've talked about, there were other options out there for him, and he chose us, and that's the nature of the point of his career that he's at. We're glad to have him and we're glad he wants to be here. I'll have fun giving him the ball every fifth day and saying, 'Go get 'em, kid.' He's a guy that wants it, for sure."