Max Scherzer says Mets told him 2024 would be 'transition' year

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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Max Scherzer never anticipated being traded by the New York Mets.

He said the sentiment in their clubhouse was that an underachieving team that had expected to contend for a World Series title this year would reload for 2024.

Scherzer said he instead found out the Mets were shifting their focus to 2025 and beyond -- which is after his contract expires. The three-time Cy Young Award winner waived his no-trade clause to be dealt to the Texas Rangers after conversations with New York general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen following his final start for the Mets on Friday.

"[Eppler's] answer was that the team is now kind of shifting vision and that they're looking to compete now for 2025 and 2026, and that 2024, that it was not going to be a reload situation in New York, and that it was going to be more of a transition in 2024," Scherzer said when he was introduced by the Rangers on Tuesday, two days after the trade was announced.

Since that was different than what he had previously heard from Cohen, Scherzer called the owner, who he said then "basically articulated" the same point -- that the Mets were identifying a new vision and timeline.

Justin Verlander, another three-time Cy Young Award winner, followed Scherzer to the American League West race on Tuesday, when he returned to the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros in a deal just before the trade deadline.

In a stunning sell-off, Scherzer and Verlander were the biggest stars among six players the Mets traded away in the days leading up to the deadline: Closer David Robertson went to Miami, reliever Dominic Leone to the Los Angeles Angels, outfielder Tommy Pham to Arizona and outfielder Mark Canha to Milwaukee. They also sent infielder Eduardo Escobar to the Angels in June.

In those deals, the Mets got back 10 minor leaguers -- most of them considered promising prospects -- to improve their lagging farm system. New York also acquired pitchers Phil Bickford and Adam Kolarek from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday for cash.

By trading Scherzer, Verlander, Robertson and Canha, the Mets lowered 2023 expenses by about $45 million in salary and tax.

"We were just trying to be strategic and we wanted to see what opportunities exist on some of our players. We had certain price points that we were looking for, and if those were met, we were going to execute it," Eppler said.

"One of the goals here is just to kind of expedite the longer-term goal. These allow us to kind of allocate a lot of our resources toward building that farm system, which is the ultimate goal. You can kind of try to serve the major league team, and at some point, when you're in the circumstances that we're in, you want to make the best of that situation. So for us, that was seeing what opportunities exist and seeing if we could get impact talent."

Eppler said the Mets plan to field a competitive team in 2024 but acknowledged they don't see themselves having the same odds as they did going into this season or last year, when they won 101 regular-season games and made the playoffs.

"I think we're going to have to go into free agency and that's OK," Eppler said, indicating pitchers and outfielders will likely be the priority. "We've got some time to get a sense of just how much of an investment we can make."

Asked about Scherzer's comments, Eppler said he didn't want to discuss their conversations publicly.

"It's a repositioning of layers of assets in the organization," Mets shortstopFrancisco Lindorsaid. "We're trying to build a sustainable system, for years to come."

New York's record-high payroll was a projected $365 million just more than a month ago, but that hasn't bought a winning team. The Mets lost 7-6 to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night to fall to 50-56, putting them 18 games out of first place in the National League East and seven games -- and several teams -- below the final wild-card spot.

"Clearly, the season didn't work out as planned. There was high expectations. Looked good on paper. But it didn't translate to consistent wins," Eppler said. "I don't think anybody really forecasted that this is where we would be at the deadline.

"But we weren't banking enough wins and we had to accept the reality of that and kind of make the best of the circumstances. So that's what we've executed over the last number of days."

The Mets are paying Texas $35.51 million over the next 14 months as part of the Scherzer trade, leaving the Rangers in effect responsible for $22.5 million owed to the 39-year-old pitcher through next season. Scherzer opted in for 2024 before the deal with the Rangers was completed.

Robertson had already been traded to Miami for two minor leaguers before Scherzer made his final start for New York on Friday night. Scherzer said he was already getting texts from players he knew across the league talking about trade offers and asking if he would accept them.

The Mets will send Houston around $35.5 million at least, covering a majority of the remaining roughly $57.5 million Verlander is guaranteed. New York will pay around $4.2 million this year and $31.3 million in 2024.

If Verlander pitches 140 innings next year and triggers his $35 million conditional player option for 2025, the Mets would pay another $17.5 million if Verlander exercises the option.

After winning the World Series and AL Cy Young Award with the Astros last season, the 40-year-old pitcher signed an $86.7 million, two-year deal with the Mets in December that includes the vesting option for 2025.

"The Mets, we went into the season with high expectations. Rightfully so. We had a very good team. Unfortunately, we didn't play up to it," Scherzer said. "And because of where everybody's at within their contract situation, age, everything, Billy and Steve, they had a different vision now. The math changed."

Texas sent the Mets minor league infielder Luisangel Acuna, a brother of Atlanta All-Star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. The Astros shipped top outfield prospects Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford to New York. The Mets got a minor league pitcher from Milwaukee for Canha.

New York agreed to pay $78,915,591 to teams acquiring the six players: $35,520,753 to Houston with Verlander, $35,510,753 to Texas with Scherzer, $3,548,387 to Miami with Robertson, $3.26 million to Milwaukee with Canha, $819,892 to Arizona with Pham and $255,806 to the Angels with Leone. If Verlander exercises his 2025 option, the Mets would send the Astros another $17.5 million.

The Mets lowered their payroll this year to the $340-$345 million range and their luxury tax payroll to $370-$375 million.

"We certainly expected to win a lot more games than we did," Canha said. "I think that's a super-talented team. It's a great organization and I don't think they're out of the race yet, by any means. ... But the deadline comes up and a team has to make moves and that's what happens."

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