We all know that the 2021 trade deadline was one that will likely shape the direction of the Nationals franchise for years to come. But just how close were the Nationals to going in a different direction at the deadline and sending Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to San Diego instead of Los Angeles?
There’s no doubt that the two sides were talking, and we’ll never really know how close they were to making a deal. Ken Rosenthal even tweeted saying that the Padres were close to acquiring Scherzer a couple of days before the deadline:
BREAKING: Padres close to acquiring Max Scherzer, sources tell @TheAthletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 29, 2021
That wouldn’t be surprising coming from Bob Nightengale, but Rosenthal doesn’t typically jump the gun like that. Over the weekend, MLB Trade Rumors came out with an article detailing the headliners of a potential Scherzer/Turner deal to San Diego. While we don’t know the other players that might’ve been coming to DC from San Diego (the Nats ended up with 4 players from LA), we can compare the two headliners. The Nationals ended up landing the Dodgers top two prospects in Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. According to Dennis Lin of The Athletic, the Padres had been dangling catching prospect Luis Campusano (SD’s #2 prospect) and pitcher Chris Paddock in a potential deal.
Interestingly, it seems like the Nationals had their choice of two of the top catching prospects in the game at the deadline. Campusano can hit for more power than Ruiz, but Ruiz is a better defender than Campusano. Both are seen as bat first catchers. I personally like that the Nats went with Ruiz here because of his higher floor. Ruiz has a propensity to put the bat on the ball and is able to get on base. He walked 6 times and stuck out just 4 times in 23 games with the Nationals last season. That should continue to be the case as his career goes on. Campusano on the other hand, might have a higher ceiling than Ruiz because of his power potential. There’s a lot to like with each of these guys though.
If Mike Rizzo was torn between the two catchers, the second aspect of this deal probably made his decision a little easier. The Dodgers dangled Josiah Gray, while the Padres were reportedly offering Chris Paddock. I’m not taking anything away from Paddock here. He’s been in the majors for 3 seasons now and made over 60 starts for the Padres over that time. His rookie year in 2019 was by far his most productive in the Majors, with his numbers steadily declining since then. He’s a back-end of the rotation starter, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Rizzo was clearly looking for more. Gray was the Dodgers top prospect when he was dealt to DC and while the results were mixed after he arrived in DC, he still stands to be a #2 or #3 starter for the Nationals as they move closer to contention.
From a pure “stuff” standpoint, Gray holds an advantage over Paddock. Paddock’s biggest issue is that he’s a 3 pitch pitcher who relies on his fastball over 60% of the time. Gray on the other hand throws 4 pitches and is able to mix his pitches a bit more. Paddock does have a nice changeup that he can throw to keep hitters off balance, but when your fastball and changeup account for over 85% of your pitches thrown, you’re going to be hard pressed to go deep into games. For comparison, Gray throws his fastball 51% of the time, so it’s essentially a coin flip as to whether you’re going to get a fastball or something offspeed. Typically pitchers who rely on two pitches at as high of a clip as Paddock does end up in the bullpen. That’s not to say Paddock is destined for the bullpen, but it’s easy to see why Mike Rizzo would have preferred Gray over Paddock in the end.
I think at the end of the day, Nats fans would have been happy with either of these headliners last July in a potential deal for Scherzer and Trea. Ruiz and Campusano are both young catchers that the Nationals would have been able to build around. Paddock would have given the Nats a back-end of the rotation starter, which just about any team can use. Gray on the other hand gives the Nats potential front-end of the rotation upside. When you’re hitting the reset button like the Nats are doing, that potential is a lot more valuable than what Paddock was going to bring, which is why it’s easy to see why Rizzo preferred the Dodgers package over the Padres package.