In professional sports, free agents can make a world of difference for a team. Building through the draft is important, but being able to bring in an established player who can immediately bolster the roster can turn a playoff team into a championship contender. In other cases, teams just need a less expensive veteran to add some depth.
Washington is not considered a major spot for free agents, as it doesn’t boast the same type of weather and nightlife as Los Angeles and Miami, nor does it have the same market opportunities as New York or Chicago, but that has not stopped the team from bringing in major additions over the years.
Some have worked out great, like London Fletcher, who signed a five-year deal with the Redskins in 2007 and immediately became a major presence for the defense. Others have been disastrous, like Albert Haynesworth, who signed a seven-year/$100 million deal in 2009 but barely lasted two seasons.
Looking from 2010 to 2019, I will be breaking down the best and worst free agency signings from each of the four major Washington teams, continuing with the Nationals. These signings do NOT include contract extensions for players already on the team or players who came in from a trade. These are only for players who came to DC from another team through free agency.
Best: Max Scherzer (2015)
Initial deal: Seven years, $210 million
Subsequent deal(s): N/A
Five All-Star Games, three NL strikeout championships, two Cy Young awards and one World Series later, Scherzer is the obvious choice for best free agency signing of the decade, and he most certainly earns that distinction for the history of the franchise, if not the entire city.
Mad Max was considered a short-sighted acquisition when the team signed the 30-year-old to a huge seven-year deal in 2015, but it quickly proved to be a bargain. Scherzer has finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting in each of his five seasons in Washington, winning it twice while finishing in the top three in the past two seasons.
He became the No. 1 pitcher immediately upon coming to DC, creating arguably the best one-two punch in the majors with Stephen Strasburg behind him in the rotation. It took five years, but Scherzer finally helped deliver a World Series bookended by a gritty effort in Game 7 just days after being scratched from his scheduled Game 5 start. He reached 300 strikeouts in a season for the first time in 2018, which led the majors, and his 2,692 career strikeouts rank 24th all-time. Among active pitchers, he has the second-most behind former Detroit teammate Justin Verlander (18th all-time with 3,006).
After two years in Arizona and five in Detroit, Scherzer will be entering his sixth season in Washington — assuming there is a season at all — so the Nationals are officially the team with which he’s spent the most time. With all he’s accomplished in that span, and whatever’s left in these next two-plus years, it’s probable that whenever Scherzer gets his deserved induction to Cooperstown, he could be the first to go in with a Curly ‘W’ on his cap.
Worst: Dan Haren (2013)
Initial deal: One year, $13 million
Subsequent deal(s): N/A
Fresh off the team’s first ever postseason appearance, the Nationals brought in the three-time All-Star Haren to add a veteran arm into the rotation. With the rest of the rotation 27 or younger, the 32-year-old Haren had finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting just two seasons prior, and his $13 million salary made him the third-highest paid player on the team behind Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman.
Unlike those two, who were both top five on the team in WAR that season (Werth was the best on the team with 4.6), Haren finished the season with a WAR of 0.1, and for a stretch was statistically among the worst hurlers in the game. By late June, his ERA had swelled to a major league-worst 6.15, and the 19 home runs he gave up through 15 starts were also the most in the league.
He spent time on the DL for physical and psychological reasons. Aside from shoulder issues, he later admitted to be in a dark place mentally, which could account for most of his struggles on the mound. He was able to finish the season on a higher note, however, going 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA in his final 13 games, but it wasn’t enough as the 86-76 Nationals were unable to return to the postseason. The blame cannot be put on Haren entirely, but a better season on his part obviously would have helped.
Across the entire season, Haren went 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA (eighth-highest in the majors that season), allowing 179 hits, 88 earned runs and 28 home runs (which was tied for seventh most in the majors). Luckily for the Nationals, the deal lasted just one season and they were not committed to him anymore after 2013. He went on to sign a one-year/$10 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers the following season.
Some would point to Werth’s massive seven-year/$126 million deal as a bad signing given the size, but Werth spent the majority of his contract as an impactful veteran leading a young team. There have also been other players signed to smaller deals that just didn’t pan out. Haren, meanwhile, was paid a top three salary team-wide with the purpose of bolstering the starting rotation. The contract length prevented it from being disastrous, but given the salary and expected level of output, the signing of Haren was the worst of the decade.