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How did Max Scherzer end up with Rangers? The Mets knew when to cut their losses


In late 2020, when analyzing the various traits that made Steve Cohen one of the world’s richest men as a stock trader, author Sheelah Kolhatkar hammered one home.

“He was so good at knowing when to cut your losses — because apparently that is one of the biggest areas where traders get into trouble,” Kolhatkar said. “They become really attached to certain investments and then when things change and they’re not good investments anymore, they have a really hard time making the decision to sell them. He was just very cold and focused, and he was able to make those decisions without letting his emotions get in the way.”

On Saturday night, amidst as disappointing a season as the Mets have ever had, Cohen cut his losses.

Max Scherzer is a Texas Ranger. In a deal that lingered as plausible but never felt realistic over the last month, the Mets sent Scherzer and roughly $36 million to Texas in exchange for Double-A shortstop Luisangel Acuña (younger brother of Atlanta superstar, Ronald). Acuña is a consensus top-100 prospect in the sport.

While the future of the Mets is a little brighter, the present is a whole lot more muddled.

What does this mean ahead of the MLB trade deadline?

The Mets had already announced their intention to sell with Thursday night’s trade of closer David Robertson to the Marlins. While unsurprising, the deal compelled Scherzer to want a meeting with “Mets brass” to discuss the direction of the organization.

“You trade our closer away, I’m sure a bunch of people have to have a conversation with the front office,” Scherzer said Friday night. If the Robertson trade didn’t jar some other veterans on the club, like Justin Verlander, of course, but also Pete Alonso, who is only under contract through next season, this deal will.

Less than 24 hours later, Scherzer’s a Ranger.

After initiating a conversation with GM Billy Eppler, Francisco Lindor said he received better clarification regarding what’s ahead. Lindor said he anticipated more departures from the clubhouse, but referred to the Mets’ moves as a “transition,” not a rebuild. “I am here for the long term,” Lindor added. “I am here to try to win championships. But also to be part of an amazing organization. You want to win, and you want to win now, but you also want to have stability. From my understanding, that is what I am seeing right now.”

Francisco Lindor hit a two-run home run on Saturday. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

Still, the decision to go this far in selling surprised many in the clubhouse. Players heard rumblings before the game. They said to themselves, “No way.” But when some of them didn’t see Scherzer around, they took reports more seriously. During the rain delay before the 11-6 loss to the Nationals, players told Scherzer goodbye.

“Honestly, shocked,” Alonso said.

“We knew that anything could be on the table now,” Brandon Nimmo said. “We weren’t sure how far this might go, but knew that these were possibilities. I would say shocked is definitely the right word.”

Alonso said he’s briefly thought about his own future, too. But he added he feels comfortable in New York and enjoys playing for the Mets. After the Scherzer trade, players said they wondered what could be next, who else could be on the move.

“That’s a natural inclination, for sure,” Alonso said. “If a guy with a no-trade clause can get traded then anyone can. It’s a strange feeling, for sure.”

What does this mean for Justin Verlander?

It’s unclear. It’s not a certainty that Verlander will be traded, but the Scherzer deal offered a blueprint of what to expect should the Mets decide to unload their other top starter. Verlander has performed better than Scherzer and, in theory, should net a better prospect.

However, Verlander also has a no-trade clause in addition to being under contract for 2024 with a vesting option for 2025. It’s also unknown whether the Scherzer trade made Verlander feel any different about playing for the Mets.

What does this mean for 2024?

Moving Scherzer represents a different level of selling. Robertson was an impending free agent; dealing him — or Tommy Pham or Mark Canha — did not detract from the 2024 Mets.

Dealing Scherzer sure does. The Mets will pay a significant amount of the $15.2 million Scherzer is still owed this season and the $43.3 million he’s owed next year, as a major-league source confirmed to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that Scherzer will not opt out of his contract. As much of a step back as Scherzer has taken this season, he will still need to be replaced in the 2024 rotation.

At the moment — and get used to hearing that given the evolving sands at our feet — the Mets are still in line to be over next season’s luxury tax with only 11 players under guaranteed contracts for next year. That includes all the dead money owed to Scherzer and others but not the arbitration raises owed to Alonso and others.

Mets 2024 Payroll

Player

  

Salary

  

AAV

  

43.333

43.333

32.000

34.100

20.250

20.250

19.500

19.500

17.250

18.640

14.000

15.000

13.000

13.000

10.250

12.500

7.000

7.500

6.750

7.250

2.100

1.850

2.000

2.000

1.250

1.250

16.500

16.500

8.000

9.500

0.500

0.500

0.250

0.250

1.667

2.000

15.500

215.933

240.090

Players shaded in blue have player options for 2024. Players shaded in orange have club options, and the money listed is the buyout on those options. Players shaded in gray are no longer with the club but will still be paid by them.

Add in estimated arbitration raises, and the figures increase to about $255 million in salary and $280 million against the luxury tax.

Their 2024 rotation consists of Verlander, Kodai Senga, José Quintana, David Peterson and Tylor Megill, with Joey Lucchesi behind them.

The free-agent starting pitching market is deeper than the position-player market this winter. Shohei Ohtani leads both, of course, but there’s also Aaron Nola, Julio Urías and potentially Yoshinobu Yamamoto as front of the rotation options — all of whom are much younger than Scherzer. Of course, they’ll require significantly longer contracts.

One constant since Cohen’s ownership: He doesn’t do things halfway, especially when it comes to money. Clearly, he wants to build a great farm system. He’s willing to absorb the cost to do so. Would he pay down contracts and continue to spend in the offseason to replace them to try to build another contender? Don’t put anything past him. He has already operated differently than any other owner.

What are the Mets getting back?

Industry sources indicated this week that the Mets were listening on their star pitchers Scherzer and Verlander in the hopes of being blown away by a prospect offer they couldn’t refuse.

Acuña fits the bill. The 21-year-old younger brother of Ronald Acuña Jr. (and son of one-time Mets minor-leaguer Ronald Sr.) entered Saturday hitting .315 with a .377 on-base percentage and .453 slugging percentage for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. He shares the athleticism and quick hands of his older brother, but he’ll need to refine his aggressive approach to get the most out of his game offensively. Regarding the aggressiveness, evaluators say he is getting better with his zone awareness. Acuña is in his first year on Texas’ 40-man roster.

Multiple league sources said Acuña profiles as an above-average big-league player. One evaluator said he has the ceiling of someone like Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies in part because of a speed-power combination as an up-the-middle player. Another said his swing resembles that of his older brother, though it lacks the same level of power.

In two trades now, the Mets have prioritized position-player returns and not focused on landing players who can help as soon as 2024. In the Robertson trade, they landed a pair of teenagers opening eyes in the Complex League, with ETAs closer to 2027.

(Top photo: Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images)



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