The move is a somewhat surprising one for the three-time Cy Young Award winner, who spent 6½ seasons battling the Mets as a member of the National League East rival Nationals and who narrowed his list of potential destinations to West Coast teams at the deadline in July, when he considered whether to exercise his no-trade rights.
At that time, Scherzer was dealing with a variety of small injuries that left him wanting to pitch in warm weather to keep his body as loose as possible and minimize the risk of turning sore spots into real concerns. But he was open to a wider variety of destinations in free agency, with his main requirement having a legitimate chance to win in 2022, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking.
In the end, the Mets outbid the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers (who had landed Scherzer at the trade deadline) and the San Francisco Giants for Scherzer’s services, according to a person familiar with the situation, who said none of those teams came particularly close to matching what the Mets committed.
That offer was enough to allay any concerns Scherzer may have had about the Mets, a franchise consumed by chaos for much of his time in the NL East. They hired a general manager, Billy Eppler, in mid-November, their third GM hire in 12 months. They don’t have a manager. Their owner, Steve Cohen, tweets as often as his players, some of whom reacted on the field to boos from their own fans this past season. Scherzer, a winning-obsessed perfectionist, never seemed like the type to find a comfortable home with a drama-dominated organization in the New York spotlight.
But Scherzer’s family — which now includes three kids and more dogs — has settled in a home in Jupiter, Fla., meaning the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie is just a short commute up Interstate 95.
He also loves a challenge and has long been a proponent of maximizing his own value, not merely for his own financial reasons but also because of a desire to set the salary bar higher and higher for the players who come after him. Scherzer is one of the more vocal members of the players’ union executive subcommittee. He was set to be intimately involved in negotiations with MLB starting Monday, when the sides met to work on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The expectation among multiple owners, executives, players and agents is that no agreement will be reached by Wednesday night, meaning a lockout is likely to begin Thursday, halting all offseason transactions. As a result, a flurry of deals reportedly were agreed to Sunday and Monday, including right-hander Kevin Gausman on a five-year, $110 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays and right-hander Jon Gray on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers also added one of Scherzer’s colleagues on the executive subcommittee, infielder Marcus Semien, on a seven-year deal worth $175 million, according to a person familiar with the terms, before locking up shortstop Corey Seager on a 10-year deal worth $325 million.
But Scherzer, nearing the end of what many teammates and executives believe is a Hall of Fame career, was the prize of this year’s free agent pitching market. He has won one World Series title and three Cy Young awards. He has been selected to eight All-Star Games and started four of them. Scherzer also has thrown two no-hitters — one of them at Citi Field with the Nationals.
Scherzer has been one of the most durable starters in baseball for much of the past decade, but he was so fatigued by the end of the NL Championship Series that he was unable to start Game 6 for the Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves — a game that became the decisive one as Atlanta moved on to the World Series.
Scherzer said at the time he was not suffering from any underlying injury and that a normal offseason would help restore his strength in anticipation of a normal 2022. Normal, for Scherzer, means 30-plus starts and an ERA below 3.50. He was dominant after being dealt to the Dodgers, so much so that Los Angeles did not lose a game he started in the regular season. He went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 0.820 walks plus hits per inning pitched in that span. No pitcher his age had ever received a contract worth more than $100 million. Then again, no pitcher had ever made $210 million, the total value of his previous contract, look like a bargain.
That contract with the Nationals, signed in 2015, was a seven-year deal that included large sums of deferred money that will kick in next season, which means Scherzer will be paid even more than the $43.3 million the Mets will owe him. And as the Nationals pay the rest of what they owe, they will have to face him in the New York rotation, along with fellow annual Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom, who is under contract in Queens through at least 2023.
Exactly how many more deals the Mets will make remains to be seen, but the Scherzer move pushes their estimated 2022 payroll somewhere in the range of $265 million, well above the competitive balance tax threshold — though that might change in the new collective bargaining agreement. In the past few days, they also have reportedly agreed to deals with Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and Starling Marte to go with $300 million shortstop Francisco Lindor, Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso and the rest of a promising roster that will open the 2022 season against the Nationals at Citi Field.
This story has been updated.