Plaschke: Andrew Friedman can't miss a second time on getting Max Scherzer to Dodgers

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Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) pitches
Max Scherzer, pitching against the Dodgers in the 2019 Division Series, could be the difference in the team's pursuit of consecutive World Series titles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Friedman has made many brilliant moves since taking over the Dodgers seven years ago, building a sustainable winner, crafting six of their eight consecutive division titles, shaping a World Series champion.

But on the eve of this season’s trade deadline, it is the perfect time to bug him about the biggest move he didn’t make.

In the winter before the 2015 season, in his first months on the job, Friedman could have signed an expensive free-agent pitcher who could have brought the Dodgers at least a couple of more championships. Instead, he chose a cheaper route and signed two other arms who never made much of a difference.

He whiffed on Max Scherzer then.

He cannot whiff on Max Scherzer now.

The Washington Nationals pitcher is available again, working for a flopping team in the final year of his contract, and the Dodgers have a chance to trade for him.

They must do it. Friedman must do it. Friedman needs to do whatever it takes to make that happen, make another championship happen, and right his most notable wrong.

The Nationals want top prospects Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Bobby Miller or Diego Cartaya? Do it. They wanted faded prospect Gavin Lux? Do it. They want intriguing prospect Zach McKinstry? Do it.

The Nationals would include shortstop Trea Turner in the deal but would want Cody Bellinger in return? Yes, absolutely, do it.

You can bet that if the Dodgers don’t do it, the San Francisco Giants or San Diego Padres will try to do it. And you can bet that if one of those three teams gets Scherzer, they will win the National League West.

He’s that impactful. And the Dodgers are that desperate.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who went unbeaten in five starts in the Nationals’ 2019 postseason, would give the Dodgers the October rotation piece they so deeply need.

Walker Buehler starts Game 1 and then ... who? Clayton Kershaw will have to make a comeback from a forearm injury. Julio Urias will be running on fumes as he has already pitched 45 more innings than his career high for a season. Trevor Bauer will still be suspended and will hopefully never wear a Dodgers uniform again. Dustin May is out for the season after Tommy John surgery.

Clayton Kershaw pitches against the Houston Astros.
Clayton Kershaw won four postseason games in 2020 but has been dealing with a forearm injury this season. (Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

So, again, the No. 2 starter in the playoffs is guaranteed to be … who? No fewer than nine other pitchers have started games for the Dodgers this season, most of them in an opener situation, and none of them fit to be a rotation cornerstone.

Scherzer would stabilize the starting pitching, save the bullpen, help the defense, and inspire a clubhouse that has to be reeling under a spate of late losses and a sobering 1-10 record in extra-inning games.

Scherzer would be a rental, but if he buys them their first full-season title in 33 years, who cares? Scherzer is 37, but he has a 2.83 ERA this season, his best in three years. Scherzer has $12 million remaining on a contract that could put the Dodgers above the competitive-balance tax threshold, but do Mark Walter and Stan Kasten want to send Dodgers fans the message that amid rising ticket prices and pandemic ticket adjustments, they’re not willing to pay extra for a championship?

Scherzer would be a trade-deadline gift even brighter than Rich Hill in 2016, Yu Darvish in 2017, or Manny Machado in 2018.

Remember how Friedman swung for the fences and landed those three guys? Remember their combined impact, resulting in three consecutive division titles and two World Series appearances?

Better yet, remember who Friedman gave up for all that talent? No, you don’t, because Friedman is notably adept at getting something for almost nothing.

Their names: Grant Holmes, Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, A.J. Alexy, Brendon Davis, Willie Calhoun, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop and Breyvic Valera.

Their major league impact: With the exception of Montas and briefly Calhoun, virtually zero.

Nobody in baseball is better at the trade deadline than Friedman. Nobody is better at identifying the one game-changing star available every year and willingly emptying the organization’s pockets to get him.

This year, Scherzer is the “it” guy, just like he was in the winter before the 2015 season. Yet back then, Friedman had just been hired and perhaps did not yet understand the win-at-all-costs passion of the suffering Dodgers fans.

So while the Nationals were giving Scherzer a seven-year, $210-million contract, Friedman gave Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson contracts worth $58 million.

Scherzer threw two no-hitters that season and has since won two of his Cy Young awards. Meanwhile, Anderson had a decent year — 10-9, 3.69 ERA — but was hammered in a Game 3 loss to the New York Mets in a Division Series the Mets eventually won. McCarthy injured his elbow and made only four starts. In the end, neither made much of an impact in their brief Dodgers careers.

At the time, Friedman explained his reticence to sign a superstar by saying, “You look back over time and so many long-term free-agent contracts have worked out really poorly. More than anything else, you get to a point where you’re significantly hindering your ability to win in the future.”

His philosophy has since changed, witness the 12-year, $365-million contract he gave Mookie Betts. Friedman now understands this market as well as any executive in town. He has done what it takes, time and again, proving himself to be the Dodgers’ most valuable employee, and the players know it.

You’re always in a good spot when you’re on our team, because you’re never subtracting, so that’s always good,” Kershaw told reporters this week. “As far as what happens, I don’t know, but better to be in our position than selling, for sure.”

Friedman should have the goods to acquire Scherzer. He has the motivation to acquire Scherzer. And, of course, he has a history lesson about acquiring Scherzer.

Listen to the past. Cement the future. A once-in-a-lifetime pitcher is on your doorstep for the second time in your lifetime. Don’t miss on him again. A Max Scherzer deal is waiting to be made. Make it.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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