Max Scherzer really is a Met!
HAPPY SCHERZER DAY! We will unpack below every angle of the biggest Mets signing in eons. Be excited, Mets fans!
But first some breaking news:
⏰ HAPPENING NOW: While you were sleeping, the Detroit Tigers have reportedly come close to signing Javier Báez to a six-year deal.
We will have much more to say about what this means for the Mets in a separate issue, but for now let’s focus on the future Hall of Famer headed to Queens:
In an historic move, the New York Mets (yes, those lovable losers we have kept our faith in through all of these years) have announced themselves as the new market-setters of baseball by signing three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a record-breaking deal that is expected to be worth $130 million over three years. The $43 million paid in annual salary shatters Gerrit Cole’s previous AAV mark of $36 million.
This, coming days after the Mets handed out $124.5 million in contracts to secure the services of Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Starling Marte. And they don’t appear to be done yet!
Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom have won four of the last six National League Cy Young Awards, and now both will be pitching for the New York Mets.
Do we really need to say anything else? Well, why not…
Is this real life?
Mets fans have waited for this day since Steve Cohen was rumored to be the next owner of their favorite team. If the hedge fund billionaire was willing to spend over $100 million for a piece of art (with a hole in it), what would he spend on free agents?
A few weeks after celebrating his one-year anniversary as owner, we have an answer: Steve Cohen will spend whatever it takes to get what he wants.
Once considered a long shot to sign the three-time Cy Young Award winner, the Mets ended up handing out the largest contract on an annual basis in baseball history, making Scherzer, at 37 years old, the oldest player to ever sign a $100 million deal.
But don’t let age distract you from performance on the mound. Scherzer has made at least 30 starts in 11 of the past 12 full-length seasons. And he is coming off a campaign in which he only got better as the season progressed: after being traded to the Dodgers last July, he made 11 starts leading up to the postseason, going 7–0 with a 1.98 ERA and a microscopic 3% barrel rate. His season ended in disappointment after he suffered a “dead arm” following his relief performance in Game 5 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. We will find out if there are any lingering issues related to that.
For now, we can’t help but salivate over the possibilities ahead.
The Mets have a rich history of multiple Cy Young winners joining forces in the same rotation. We all remember Johan Santana teaming up with an aging Pedro Martinez in 2008. Pedro was also teammates with Cy Young winner Tom Glavine for several seasons. But not since the turn of the century, when Glavine and Greg Maddux manned the top of the Braves rotation, have two future Hall-of-Famers at the top of their games occupied the 1–2 spots on the same team, like deGrom and Scherzer will in 2022.
The pessimist could point to the uncertainty surrounding deGrom’s health and remind us again of Scherzer’s age. We learned earlier this month that an MRI on deGrom’s arm factored into his discomfort more than it revealed any serious injury. He has several months to rehab back to full health. Meanwhile, Scherzer continues to strikeout hitters at a league-leading pace, a pretty good indicator of electric stuff, as if his third place finish in Cy Young voting wasn’t enough.
As much as the game has changed over the years — with openers and bullpen games — the best teams still rely on top-end starting pitching to reach the Promised Land. If the Mets can figure out a way to sneak into the playoffs, like the Braves did last year in a weak NL East, anything is possible with deGrom and Scherzer pitching over 50% of the games in each playoff series.
How much money?
We will learn in the months ahead how the competitive balance landscape will look in the new CBA, but think about this for a second: sitting on a luxury tax payroll of $230 million, if we use the tax penalties from last season, by signing Scherzer for $43 million per year, it’s possible Steve Cohen will owe an additional $20.8 million in taxes on Scherzer’s salary, alone.
Many fans used to begrudge the spending of big-market teams (among them Mets fans living in the shadow of the Yankees). But times have changed. Fans have become less sympathetic to billionaire owners pinching pennies on payroll. From a competitive balance standpoint, it seems less than ideal that Scherzer is set to make more money than the entire Baltimore Orioles team next season, but who is to blame for that?
Steve Cohen is worth $11 billion. There are worse things he can spend his money on than the happiness of Mets fans. Unless the pending lockout drastically changes the competitive balance tax (i.e. setting a harder top limit in exchange for raising the payroll floor), there are no real opportunity costs to signing Scherzer to a record deal.
Remember, Cohen “behaved himself” during his first off-season last year, keeping his spending to relatively moderate levels (Francisco Lindor’s contract notwithstanding), clearly to make good on his promise to other owners not to mimic a drunken sailor. But now that his ownership has been approved (and he doesn’t need the other owners’ affection), and he just endured a typically frustrating Mets season, it seems like the gloves and purse strings are off.
If Uncle Stevie wants to spend his fortune on turning the Mets into perennial contenders, he has every right to do so. And fans have every right to enjoy it — in case your non-Mets fan friends start bugging you about payroll.
How does this impact deGrom?
File this under things to worry about on another day, but it’s worth at least mentioning that the Mets will eventually need to make good with Jacob deGrom, who signed a team-friendly 5-year, $147.5 million extension in 2019 that includes an opt-out after next season. You would have to think his agent is calling Mr. Cohen to negotiate a deal that puts him on par with his current market value.
It’s not impossible the Mets could have upwards of $85-90 million committed to two pitchers who will be 34 and 38, respectively, in 2023. Of course, the Mets still owe a nearly-40 year-old Robinson Cano $40 million over the next two years; 33-year-old Starling Marte just inked a fresh 4-year, $78 million deal; and we shouldn’t forget the first year of Francisco Lindor’s mega-extension kicks in next season, putting close to $140 million in luxury tax payroll towards five players in 2022, before even accounting for a new deGrom contract.
Under normal circumstances, that is a lot of money concentrated in a few players, all of whom are well into their thirties, except Lindor, but see the previous section on whether this should be considered a problem for the Mets.
What else do I need to know?
✍️ DETAILS: Scherzer’s deal includes a full no-trade clause and he can opt out after the second year, with $87 million guaranteed.
🗣 PERSONAL TOUCH: “Cohen got involved in this personally. Cohen's wife - Alex Cohen - got involved in this personally speaking to Scherzer and Scherzer's wife, selling them on their vision,” reports Andy Martino.
🤺 COMPETITION: It was the Angels, not the Dodgers, who reportedly came the closest to signing Scherzer instead of the Mets. The Giants were also interested. Ultimately, nobody came close to matching the Mets’ three-year offer.
☀️ WEST COAST: How did Scherzer go from preferring the West Coast at the trade deadline last year to signing in New York (besides a shit ton of money)? Jorge Castillo of the LA Times reports, “Scherzer wanted to finish the season on the West Coast for the warmer weather because he was dealing with nagging injuries. Staying on the West Coast was never a requirement in free agency.” Hopefully those nagging injuries are gone.
💸 DEFERRALS: While Scherzer’s deal with the Mets reportedly contains no deferrals, he will still receive the deferred money he is owed from the Nationals stemming from his 7-year, $210 million deal that expired last season. In essence, the Nats will pay their former ace $15 million to pitch for the Mets over the next three seasons.
🔺 UP NEXT: The Mets continue to monitor the market for starting pitching with former Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi a possibility, per Andy Martino, who adds “this is the type of pitcher they’re looking for right now.” Like Taijuan Walker, the 30-year-old was a first-time All Star last season before struggling over the second half of the season, finishing with a 7–9 record and a 4.41 ERA / 4.61 FIP.
🔒 LOCKOUT: Despite the explosion of spending across baseball, a “lockout is a certainty,” according to Jon Heyman (and every other industry expert).
⏸ ON PAUSE: With the CBA set to expire on Wednesday, it is “doubtful” the Mets will make any additional moves this week, per Tim Healey.
⚾️ MATZ ALL, FOLKS: Steven Matz, whose decision to spurn the Mets for the Cardinals seemingly unleashed Cohen’s financial might on the free agent market, was introduced over Zoom yesterday and discussed his decision to sign with the Red Birds: “The free-agency process was a lot of fun for me, learning about different teams and taking different Zoom calls and kind of dreaming (about) where you're going to spend the next few years. And the Cardinals just felt like a great fit, ultimately, and an extremely exciting team with incredible defense. The thought of throwing to (catcher) Yadier Molina is extremely exciting.”
💰 FREE AGENT TRACKER: It’s been a crazy final few days leading up to the lockout. You can track all of the free agent signings and remaining free agents here, including a breaking report that former Mets spot starter Jerad Eickhoff has signed with Pittsburgh.
🔗 Did the Trevor Bauer uncertainty lead to Max Scherzer signing with the Mets? by Jorge Castillo, LA Times: “The Dodgers deemed Scherzer’s cost too rich. One likely factor: The uncertainty surrounding Trevor Bauer. The Dodgers signed Bauer in February to a three-year deal worth up to $102 million with opt outs after the first and second seasons — coincidentally beating out the Mets for his services. He was expected to top the starting rotation for two seasons before trying free agency again.”
🔗 By adding Max Scherzer, the Mets are acting like a New York team should. But that’s no guarantee of success, by Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic ($): “Mets fans would relish the exchange, knowing that before Cohen, the Wilpon/Katz ownership declined to exercise the financial muscle a team playing in the nation’s largest media market should wield. Not to spoil the fans’ day of celebration, which is overdue and well-deserved, but fast forward again to the coming summer, and it’s easy to envision how Cohen’s use of “f— you money” could backfire. How many times have teams shown that winning the offseason is no guarantee of winning the season?”
🔗 Steve Cohen’s deep pockets can handle any Mets risk, by Joel Sherman, NY Post: “The champions of winter often do not validate that in summer (see the 2021 Padres for a recent case). But Cohen is trying to invigorate a fan base and a franchise. He knows what teaming Scherzer and Jacob deGrom in a rotation can mean on the field and at the box office. Again, lots of risk. Neither 30-something ended the 2021 season pitching. But if Cohen is willing to take that risk, the only reason for a Mets fan to worry is if it meant shutting the financial door elsewhere. That does not appear to be the case.”
🔗 With Scherzer, Mets Go To the Max To Land a Marquee Free Agent, by Jay Jaffe, FanGraphs: “As to what Scherzer’s performance under the deal might look like, here’s Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection:
“That’s a total of 9.8 WAR for the three seasons, or an average of $13.27 million per projected win, which is to say that the Mets appear to be paying quite a premium for Scherzer’s services. That said, there’s a potential for high reward to go with the high risk: He produced 13.7 WAR from 2019 to ’21, and that’s without adjusting for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season; if he maxes out to something closer to 15, the contract won’t be far out of line at all.”
And we leave you with this image of a too-good-to-be-true new reality…
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