Max Scherzer will play for the Texas Rangers because the Mets, who have spent the most money on a team in Major League Baseball history, have realized that money can’t buy you a spot at the top.
Max Scherzer went 9-4 for the Mets this season with a 4.01 E.R.A.Credit…Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The major league team with the most expensive roster did not do well. This season, the Mets’ superfan owner, Steven A. Cohen, spent almost $500 million to learn a lesson that is easy to forget when trying to win the World Series: money doesn’t guarantee anything.
The Mets sent their closer, David Robertson, to the Miami Marlins early Friday morning in exchange for two young players. That deal showed that the front office had given up, and the next one proved it: Max Scherzer is a starting pitcher who is going to the Hall of Fame. On Saturday, the team agreed to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Luisangel Acua, the brother of Atlanta’s best outfielder, Ronald Acua Jr.
The agreement requires Scherzer to give up his no-trade clause. This was confirmed by someone who knew about the negotiations but was not allowed to talk about them publicly. Scherzer will use his player option for $43.3 million in 2024 as part of the deal.
Scherzer told reporters at Citi Field on Friday, after beating Washington, the only team in the National League East behind the Mets, “We put ourselves in this spot.” “As a team, we haven’t done well. I had something to do with that, so we are where we are. You can only be mad at yourself, but it stinks.”
Last season, the Mets had a record of 101-61. Only the sainted rascals of 1986 were better than that. Before Saturday night’s game, this year’s team was 49-54 and 17 games behind Atlanta in the division. They were also a long way behind in the wild-card race.
For $377 million, plus another $105 million or so in luxury tax penalties, the 2023 Mets won’t even have a chance to lose in the first round again.
After entering the year being celebrated for his lavish spending, Steven A. Cohen faced reporters in June and acknowledged trades may be on the way. Credit…Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Since the end of the 2020 season, Cohen, who is 67, has owned the Mets. He has been a fan his whole life, so he has seen other owners try to buy their way to the top. It didn’t work with Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, and Bret Saberhagen in the 1990s, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jason Bay in the 2010s, and Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Lindor right now.
Even though Scherzer is gone, we will keep the last group in the present tense. Verlander, who is 40, is under contract until next season, and Lindor, who is 30, is under contract until 2031. Both have been good but not great, like Scherzer. This season, all three of them will make $119 million.
Scherzer has a 9-4 record, but his 4.01 earned run average is his highest in 12 years, and he allows the most home runs in the National League with 23. Scherzer can still win with his slider, but at age 39, he is well into the hired-gun stage of his career. He should run for a pennant.
Scherzer replaces another member of the 2022 Mets rotation, Jacob deGrom, who signed a five-year, $185 million deal with the Rangers to use his great but fragile arm. After six starts, deGrom needed Tommy John surgery.
After that loss, the Rangers were still in first place and kept spending money. They are trying to win their first World Series in franchise history, and their expensive deals have mostly paid off. The four starters they signed as free agents have a combined record of 32-17, and Corey Seager and Marcus Semien signed for a combined $500 million before last season, started in the All-Star Game.
The Phillies, who won the World Series last fall with the help of well-paid players from other countries, are a good example. On the other hand, Cohen has always said it takes more than money to win. His spending has just made that message harder to hear.
Cohen told reporters at his first news conference in November 2020, “The key to my hedge fund is that we are always developing talent.” “If I didn’t do that and just went out and hired people from the outside, I wouldn’t have a business. So I think it’s important that we pick good players, train them well, and keep them.
The Mets gave Verlander, Brandon Nimmo, Edwin Daz, Kodai Senga, Jeff McNeil, José Quintana, Omar Narváez, David Robertson, and Tommy Pham contracts worth nearly $550 million last winter. But even back then, Cohen stressed how important it was for players to improve.
In a February podcast, Cohen told the team’s longtime announcer Howie Rose, “I inherited a farm system that was hollowed out, and I’ve been investing in the farm system.” “I’ve been putting money into technology and people and trying to get the farm system where it needs to be.”
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Scherzer and the Mets won 101 games in 2022 but lost to the San Diego Padres in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times
Cohen offered to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 when the team was up for sale. The winning ownership group, led by Mark Walter, put a lot of money into the major league payroll to keep the team looking good while they worked hard on the farm. The Dodgers keep spending a lot of money, but they keep winning because they have a lot of talent on their team.
In the last ten years, the Dodgers have won 73 more games than any other team. They have also made the playoffs yearly and have been to the World Series three times, winning once. Cohen’s plan is the same as theirs: spend like a bully in a big market while building a farm system with the urgency of a team in a small market with no choice.
Maybe some of the prospects from these trades and future ones will become stars. Perhaps not. In either case, the change in direction is a good sign. The best thing about this lost season has been the rise of Francisco Alvarez, a 21-year-old catcher with a big bat who looks like he will stick around. Please be more like him.
The Mets won’t have to spend as much money trying to win if they build around Alvarez and others who might follow him to Flushing. Fans shouldn’t care about how much money a billionaire makes, and the point isn’t that younger players are cheaper. They are better, and that’s the point.
The Mets put together a team with a lot of skill, money, and, in baseball terms, a lot of age. It was never meant to last, and now it’s falling apart.