ESPN’s Jeff Passan: ‘No better guy’ for Mariners to build around than Max Scherzer

Sep 18, 2021, 8:56 PM | Updated: Sep 19, 2021, 8:48 pm
Mariners Max Scherzer...
Max Scherzer makes his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning against the Houston Astros. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

After dropping two of three to the Boston Red Sox earlier this week, the Mariners’ playoff hopes for 2021 are minimal at best. But that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright here in Seattle.

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For the first time since turning over the roster after the 2018 season, the Mariners are almost certain to finish over .500 and likely will be just a few games out of the second Wild Card spot when all is said and done.

With playoffs this year unlikely, eyes are slowly but surely turning to the upcoming offseason and what the Mariners will do in free agency and on the trade market.

ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joined Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Mike Salk Show on Friday and he shared his thoughts on where the Mariners stand in the AL West heading into the offseason and what big move he thinks the team should try and make in free agency.

When it comes to the division, Passan thinks the Mariners can make some noise.

The Houston Astros are likely losing star shortstop Carlos Correa in free agency, but essentially the rest of their lineup is set to return in 2022.

“So the Astros are going to be good for a while,” he said.

The rest of the division, however, has some serious question marks.

“The A’s always seem to manage to be good, but you wonder if they have to move either (All-Star third baseman) Matt Chapman and/or (All-Star first baseman) Matt Olsen this offseason because of financial questions,” Passan said. “Are they going to finally be in line for a regression?”

And the other California team isn’t sitting too pretty, either, despite possessing a ton of star power in their lineup.

“The Angels, as bad as Mariners fans think they have it, at least you’re not the Angels who have the best player in the world in Mike Trout, the most talented player in the world in Shohei Ohtani who’s probably going to win MVP this year, Anthony Rendon and others, and still in the entirety of Mike Trout’s decade-long career have been to the playoffs once where they merrily got swept by the Kansas City Royals,” Passan said. “I don’t know what the Angels are or what they’re going to be. They are just the perpetual disappointment.”

So where does that leave the Mariners?

“When you look at this division, I’m not going to say, Mike, that it’s wide open, but with Texas years away, there’s room for the Mariners to make a run,” Passan said. “And if playoffs are expanded next year (under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement), which I anticipate they will be, I think I’m probably going to pick the Mariners to go to the postseason.”

If the Mariners are to make a stronger push towards playoff contention, Passan thinks they need to spend this offseason. In fact, he thinks Seattle should go after arguably the biggest name on the market.

“Listen, I don’t think they’re going to do this, but is there a better person than Max Scherzer for this team right now?” Passan asked Salk.

Scherzer is, of course, one of the game’s premier pitchers despite being 37 years old. He’s am eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner who may be winning his fourth this offseason. Scherzer won a World Series ring with the Washington Nationals in 2019 and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline this year. He has a 2.17 ERA and 14-4 record with 219 strikeouts in 162 innings in 2021.

That may seem like a pipedream to some given what Scherzer is likely to demand on the open market, but Passan doesn’t think that’s the case.

“Let’s look at what the Mariners’ payroll is at this point. Going forward going into next season, the only guy on the books that they have long-term is Marco Gonzales – and I guess you could count Evan White in there, too,” he said. “On the books next year, the Mariners have like $30 million. And if (Yusei) Kikuchi’s option isn’t picked up, we’re talking (closer to) $15 million. It’s a crazy low amount of money, right?”

With the Mariners having so much money to spend, Passan thinks that Scherzer could be the perfect piece for this team.

“If you want to build, to me there’s no better guy to build around than Max Scherzer at this point,” he said. “You’re not going to (sign) him to a super long-term deal. Yeah, you’re going to have to pay (around) $40 million a year, which is hefty, but can you imagine a rotation that starts with Scherzer and goes to (Chris) Flexen and continues with Marco Gonzales and then have Logan Gilbert and then you can slowly bring along (top pitching prospects George Kirby and Emerson Hancock) or whoever else there is? I don’t know, man, I love the idea (of Scherzer in Seattle). You have the money to go out and do it.”

But even if the Mariners offered Scherzer the best deal on the market, he’d still have to agree to come to Seattle. Does Passan think that’s possible?

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” he said. “I think the Dodgers are the favorites, but if I’m the Mariners, I’m trying to shoot the moon this offseason.”

Salk is a big fan of Colorado Rockies All-Star pitcher German Márquez and asked Passan if the Mariners would be better served trading for him than spending big on Scherzer.

“I love German Márquez, but he’s not an ace,” Passan said.

If Passan was in charge of the Mariners and had to pick between trading for Márquez or signing Scherzer, he’s emphatically taking the latter.

“They have no payroll. Their payroll is miniscule going into next year,” he said of the Mariners. “I understand the numbers I put out there, by the way, do not include arbitration. But Mitch Haniger, considering he’s (only making) $3 million this year is going to be getting pennies on the dollar.  J.P. Crawford considering he’s getting $2 million this year is going to be getting pennies on the dollar. Flexen is at $3 million.”

Not only does Passan think the Mariners should be all in on Scherzer or another top arm, but they should be trying to a star pitcher and a top bat.

“(Marcus) Semien and Scherzer, Kris Bryant and Scherzer, Bryant and Semien and Greinke,” Passan said. “To me, this is the time where the Mariners have to go out and put it all on the table.”

Listen to the conversation at this link or in the player below.

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