Miami does not just want to compete for a Wild Card spot in 2015. While the Marlins' goal for the upcoming season is to make the playoffs, the organization has its eye on a National League East title. And while several teams within the division are rebuilding, things got a bit more challenging for the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, as the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract worth over $200 million.
Scherzer, 30, was arguably the best free agent starter on the market this offseason. He has postseason experience, and posted a 3.15 ERA and 2.85 FIP in 220.1 innings pitched a season ago. His 5.6 2014 WAR is only notable because it is notably less than his 6.4 mark in 2013. The Nationals have had a fairly quiet offseason, and were linked to Scherzer over the weekend.
While the Marlins are looking for a division title, the Nationals have a similar goal. And the addition of Scherzer may put them that much closer. Gio Gonzalez has pitched well against the Marlins in his career. Jordan Zimmermann has quietly become a consistent arm in the NL East. Doug Fister is a front of the line starter. Even Tanner Roark had a solid 2014 campaign. The club could be looking to trade Stephen Strasburg, who Miami started to figure out (figuring out here means scoring at least a pair of runs) a season ago.
After making a handful of offseason moves, the Marlins feel like they have a rotation that could lineup with any major league club. Henderson Alvarez should be solid, Jarred Cosart will likely prove to be consistent, Mat Latos was a quality addition, and Dan Haren, if he reports, could give the Marlins an edge. But, with regard to starting pitching, is that enough?
The Marlins' and Nationals' offenses are notably similar. Power threats are valuable, and speed is sometimes limited. It is not likely that either team will score a ton of runs on a nightly basis, with both squads relying on strong starting pitching. And that is where Scherzer comes in.
Jose Fernandez is expected to be healthy by June or July, but there should not be a rush and there will not be. David Phelps and Brad Hand could battle for a rotation spot, and the Marlins would lose depth if Haren was traded between now and the start of April. The Marlins have been linked to James Shields, and maybe that proves to be the difference.
Add Shields to matchup against Scherzer. The Mets are expected to compete, with the Braves and Phillies rebuilding. The Marlins may not need to counter every Washington move, but Scherzer is a notable upgrade. If the Marlins want to compete for just a playoff spot, their current roster may be sufficient. But if the goal is a division title, the Nationals as of Sunday are ahead.