Max Scherzer knew something was up.
Despite the disastrous season that left the Mets toward the bottom of the NL East standings, the three-time Cy Young Award winner was confident that the club would load up again in 2024 in an attempt to contend for a pennant. Owner Steve Cohen, a shrewd businessman and the richest owner in baseball, had assured him of such in the past.
But in the days leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline, Scherzer was less and less sure. Players around the league were texting Scherzer to ask if he would waive his no-trade clause. They left Scherzer wondering if there was any truth to the rumors that the Mets were shopping him on the trade market.
He sought more assurance from Cohen and was surprised to hear that the team’s plans had changed and that he was no longer a part of them. By the end of the night, he had waived the no-trade and was on his way to join the Texas Rangers.
“Where I’m at in my career, where my age is at, I don’t have time to wait around,” Scherzer said Monday in his return to Citi Field.
Scherzer was traded one night after he recorded his final win in a Mets uniform. The Mets covered his salary to be able to receive infielder Luisangel Acuña, the brother of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr., in return.
The trade signaled a new era for the Mets and for Scherzer as well. For the Mets, it meant a reset of sorts. They bowed out of the race for 2023, admitting defeat. Scherzer is satisfied with how it all turned out now that he’s in Dallas playing for a contending team. But it wasn’t an easy decision or an easy process.
Even after the team traded away closer David Robertson, Scherzer still didn’t think he would be dealt. He lamented the loss of Robertson, saying he didn’t want the front office to give up on the team.
“That was our wishful thinking,” Scherzer said. “That was what the players wanted. We still believed that we could still find a way to get back into the ‘23 playoff race. We didn’t think we were out of it. I get where our record was and where we were at in the standings and how we were playing. I’m not oblivious. But in that clubhouse, we absolutely believed we had a team that could win and we could compete with anybody in the big leagues.
“We just didn’t have a good first half, but maybe we could catch fire in the second half.”
Scherzer made a commitment to the Mets when he signed his $130 million contract in December 2021 and wanted to honor it. He had a player option for 2024 that he was planning on picking up and a new home on Long Island purchased last winter. Scherzer didn’t waive the no-trade clause right away. There were contractual hoops to jump through and family considerations.
“Even when things were going south, when we weren’t playing good baseball, we still had that belief as a collective whole, that we have great leadership to hold that kind of line,” Scherzer said. “So when you do hear that they’re going to pull the plug on 2023, yeah, that’s disappointing. But, like I said, the common viewpoint amongst all of us players, was, ‘OK, let’s go for 2024. We’ve got the talent here to do it.’ But it became obvious that that wasn’t the direction.”
Eventually, he came around to the situation. The Rangers are young enough to win and have an owner providing the resources to do so. It’s a short plane ride for his family in Jupiter, Florida.
Whatever pitching coach Mike Maddux has done with him, it’s worked. Scherzer struggled through a series of nagging injuries and periods of ineffectiveness earlier this season, all made more complicated by his 10-game sticky stuff suspension. It led to a 4.01 ERA, though his 9-3 record shows that the Mets responded when he was on the mound.
Through five starts with the Rangers, Scherzer is 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA. Texas is in the midst of a heated battle for AL West supremacy, with the Seattle Mariners currently leading the division by one game over the Rangers and the Houston Astros, the team the Mets’ other ace — right-hander Justin Verlander — went back to.
Scherzer downplayed reports that he and Verlander were unhappy playing with one another. The two former Detroit Tigers have never admitted to any bad blood between each other, but they’ve never really been friends. Scherzer said his relationship with Verlander is in a better place than it’s ever been after sharing a clubhouse in Queens.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. When Scherzer signed with the Mets, it helped legitimize a new regime. It showed that under the direction of Cohen, the Mets were all-in on winning a World Series. A retooling period was never in the cards. But plans change.
The Mets were better off with Scherzer, but if Acuña lives up to the hype, they may end up being better off without him in the long run.
“Max was a great teammate and a winning player,” said manager Buck Showalter. “We were lucky to have him.”