Scherzer's contract changed things for the Nats. They were modest spenders last year. Some want to point out "Hey Top 10" and it's true, but any sort of ranking outside of 1st or last when you are dealing with such small numbers can be disingenuous.
The Nats were 9th last year but with a payroll of 134 million they were no closer to 7th (Giants 154) than 11th (D-backs 112). There were the BIG spenders, the next level, then the Nats group with the Rangers and Blue Jays. The Nats were in it and not trying to be cheap, but they weren't what I'd call all-in. Part of that was the fact they didn't have to be to be a great team - but still real 2B and a full bench would have been nice.
Max's contract changes the Nats position and moves them into that 2nd group at closing in on 160 million. Is that important? Depends. As teams age they often need to spend money to remain as competitive as they once were. It's hard to reload with young talent that can produce right away. That is part of what you are seeing and for a team like the Nats, with a lot of talent hitting those FA years, it's what you'd like to see if you don't want a drop in competitiveness. But at the same time spending more money isn't a guarantee of success just an increase in your odds for it. They could have been fine without Scherzer. They might make the playoffs in the future, depends on that talent. So maybe it's not important. The problem is you generally find out the answer to the second interpretation of the question at a point where doing anything about it is more difficult.
Ok, so why did I title this "one more big contract"? It's about next season. You see the Nats were going to have a big payroll this year, assuming no trade-offs, so the move from 140 to 160 is good to see but it's a temporary situation. Expecting to lose ZNN, Desi, Span, Fister, etc will save the team 50 million dollars next year. If they simply fill the gaps with the usual mix of young players and low level FAs they'll find themselves no better than back where they were before, probably even lower than that. This year, this commitment, will be an aberration, a quirk of timing, and the commitment to having the best team possible will be a one-year fever dream.They'll be a team trying to win but trying to win while not spending too much.
But one more big contract can change that. One more chunk of money to ZNN or Desi, or Stras or someone and it's hard to see them not being big spenders through 2017. Not the biggest, but you don't have to be the biggest, just big, and not even for every year, just most. (and part of that has to do with competition)
We're almost there with the owners that I think are best for a team. The Werth deal showed they weren't going to be CHEEEP. The Zimm deal showed that they weren't going to be cheap. The Scherzer deal shows they can commit money for one stab at excellence. One more big deal and you'll have an ownership that has to be seen as willing to spend for continued excellence.