When the Mets signed Max Scherzer on November 29, 2021, it changed the perception of the Steve Cohen New York Mets. The trade and extension of Francisco Lindor the prior offseason and the flurry of singings earlier in that November signaled that the Wilpon Mets were dead as a doornail, but this signing signified something different.
The Mets didn’t necessarily need Max Scherzer. They had Jacob deGrom as their ace—even though he had questionable health and held an opt out after the 2022 season—but the Mets could’ve gone for a more down-market rotation option like a Kevin Gausman or a Jon Gray to build the depth behind deGrom. But they didn’t do that. They went for the jugular, and signed Scherzer to form a two-headed monster atop their rotation.
The statement was made: the Mets under Cohen weren’t just going to make big signings for necessity, they were going to make big signings as a luxury because they could. Steve Cohen gave Max Scherzer over $40 million per year, the largest AAV for a contract in Mets history, firmly putting an end to any thought that the Mets might worry about their budget or luxury tax number at all in the near future.
On Saturday, Scherzer’s Mets career came to an unceremonious end when the Mets waived the white flag on the 2023 season and traded him to the Rangers for prospect Luisangel Acuña.
Ironically, the trade of Max Scherzer signaled the end of the era of star-studded Mets baseball that the signing of Max Scherzer ushered in, and similarly made a statement about the type of financial commitments Cohen was willing to make to improve the Mets. Only this time, it was in the other direction; about his willingness to eat dead money to get good prospects and improve the future of the organization as opposed to the present.
Scherzer’s Mets career concludes after 42 starts across a season and a half, pretty much half of the amount of time we thought he’d be here for, with a career 3.02 ERA and a 20-9 win-loss record here.
But Scherzer’s fleeting time here cannot just be described by the top-line numbers. It was so much more complicated than that. There were highlights and lowlights, with moments that will be discussed for a long time.
When Scherzer first arrived, it was a little strange to see him in the orange and blue, but he certainly didn’t take long to endear himself to Mets fans. With deGrom going down with a long-term shoulder injury at the end of spring training last year, it was on Scherzer to carry the load of an ace for the Mets. And that’s exactly what he did.
In his first home start in Queens, Scherzer introduced himself to the Flushing Faithful by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Giants. He eventually surrendered a hit and a run, but it was quite the first impression for the former arch nemesis in his new home. He’d strike out 10 over seven dominant innings that night; assuring that, even without deGrom, the Mets were still in good hands with Mad Max.
Heading into May, Scherzer was proving to be everything the Mets had paid for. He carried an ERA under 3 into his eighth start of the season against the Cardinals, but things went awry that night when he took himself out of the game with what turned out to be an oblique strain. The injury would cause Scherzer to miss roughly six weeks, but when he returned to the mound on July 5, he was even better than he was before the injury, putting up a ridiculous 2.08 ERA with an absurd 26.7% K-BB% in his first 12 starts off the injured list. Included in those starts were some extremely vital performances in huge games.
On July 11, the Mets—who were a little beaten up offensively and not at full strength—rode Scherzer’s seven innings of one-run ball for a crucial win against the Braves in Atlanta to stay in first place. A few weeks later, on his birthday, the now-38-year-old delivered another seven inning, one-run performance against the Yankees, highlighted by three huge strikeouts of Aaron Judge.
His first start of August was the second game of a crucial doubleheader against the Braves at home, whom the Mets were trying to hold off in the division. Scherzer had possibly the best start of his Mets career that night, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out 11 Atlanta hitters. It was an effort that Gary Cohen called “inspiring.” He’d follow that with yet another seven-inning, one-run effort against the Phillies six days later.
The Mets held a comfortable division lead at that point, and the heroic efforts of Scherzer were a big reason why. He delivered ace-like performance after ace-like performance and was coming up huge nearly every time they needed him to.
As the Braves started to narrow the division lead again, Scherzer left another start at the beginning of September with what he described as “side fatigue.” Basically, the oblique was acting up again, and the aging superstar was going to have to find a way to manage it down the stretch.
The Mets placed Scherzer on the IL for the second time, and he wound up missing just one more than the requisite 15 days. He’d return on September 19 against the Brewers, and looked as good as he did all season. He tossed six perfect innings against Milwaukee, and was pulled with a perfect game going, as he was still protecting his side. He’d follow that with six solid innings of one-run ball against the A’s that weekend in preparation for the most important start of his Mets career—and the final one of his regular season—against the Braves, in a series that would basically decide who would win the division.
After dropping the first game of the series behind deGrom, the Mets needed Scherzer to deliver in Game 2. But he just didn’t have it. He surrendered four runs on nine hits over 5.2 innings, allowing nine hits and two homers while only striking out four Braves hitters. The Mets lost that night by a score of 4-2; a better start by Scherzer could’ve given them better odds to win.
After that, the Mets were swept out of Atlanta, and had to settle for a Wild Card series against San Diego at home. Scherzer was given the Game 1 start after deGrom had struggled a bit coming down the stretch. Scherzer was considered the safer bet at the time.
Well, he wasn’t. In the Mets first playoff game since The Conor Gillaspie Incident six years earlier, Scherzer was absolutely tagged. He surrendered seven runs and four homers across just 4.2 innings. He was booed off the mound. The Mets would lose the series, and deGrom was the only Mets pitcher who delivered a quality start in the three games.
Scherzer’s shortcomings in his last two starts were a huge reason the 101-win Mets went home in the first round of the playoffs, a round they didn’t even think they were going to have to play a week earlier.
Returning in 2023, Scherzer showed up to spring with reduced velocity and had some rough spring starts. Signs of decline were there, but he delivered a solid Opening Day start in Miami. But then it got rocky. A rough start in Milwaukee, a 10-game sticky stuff suspension, another rough start in Detroit, and several other unimpressive starts solidified a clear decline in progress for the for the former ace.
Scherzer mostly righted the ship enough as the season progressed to remain a valuable starting pitcher, and he still had his good outings, but a five-run shellacking never seemed far off. The consistency was just gone, he was giving up too many homers, and he owned a 4.20 ERA going into his final start of July. Scherzer adding two runs to his ERA was one of the biggest contributors to the Mets colossally disappointing season.
His final Mets start was a solid seven-inning, one run performance against the Nationals. The Mets were already deep into talks with the Rangers on the eventual trade while it was happening.
Scherzer departs with a brief but complicated legacy in New York. It was by no means a rousing success or completely worth the money Cohen paid, but they still got 23 starts of a 2.29 ERA—the lowest ERA of Scherzer’s career—in 2022. He also could not deliver in the games where the Mets needed him the most, and his performance in those last two starts could’ve severely altered the outcome of the 2022 season. But without him, the Mets probably aren’t even contending for the division in the last week of the 2022 season anyway, and he came up huge in big games prior to those last two starts.
He also declined harder and faster than expected in 2023, and the Mets had to eat a lot of money to press the ejector button on the deal while they still could.
All of those things are important parts of Scherzer’s Mets career, and it should not be whittled down to merely a guy who wasn’t worth the money or a guy who choked on the big stage. The Mets did get real value out of Scherzer, but he was also a reason they were in this mess to begin with. All of these things are true, and comprise a very strange and nuanced Mets career that’s certain to be discussed for years to come.