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Max Scherzer details talks with Mets brass: Team taking step back to build for 2025-26

Max Scherzer did not think he would be traded. He was not, in his words, “itching to jump ship.” But he said he agreed to waive his no-trade clause when Mets owner Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler informed him the team was taking a step back next season and building more for the future.

“I talked to Billy,” Scherzer told The Athletic. “I was like, ‘OK, are we reloading for 2024?’ He goes, ‘No, we’re not. Basically our vision now is for 2025-2026, ‘25 at the earliest, more like ‘26. We’re going to be making trades around that.’

“I was like, ‘So the team is not going to be pursuing free agents this offseason or assemble a team that can compete for a World Series next year?’ He said, ‘No, we’re not going to be signing the upper-echelon guys. We’re going to be on the smaller deals within free agency. ‘24 is now looking to be more of a kind of transitory year.’”

Eppler, according to Scherzer, went on to say the Mets were open to trading not only players who would become free agents after 2023 but also after ‘24. That group included three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (who was traded to the Astros on Tuesday), three-time All-Star first baseman Pete Alonso, left-hander José Quintana and lefty reliever Brooks Raley.

Follow our live MLB trade deadline tracker for the latest.

Justin Verlander with Mets GM Billy Eppler (Brad Penner / USA Today)

The conversations between Scherzer and the Mets’ leadership took place after he made his final start for the team on Friday night. Scherzer told reporters he wanted to have a conversation with Eppler about the team’s direction, creating the impression that the trade of closer David Robertson the previous night irritated him.

The Robertson trade, however, did not come as a surprise to Scherzer. The night before his start, he said he spoke briefly to Eppler, who informed him the team was looking to move their potential free agents after 2023. Scherzer understood that strategy, but still wanted more answers. Players from multiple teams were texting him, he said, saying their clubs were making trade offers for him, asking if he would accept.

After Eppler informed him of the club’s plan, Scherzer said he told the GM, “I’ve got to hear this from Steve. This is a change in organizational direction.” Cohen, Scherzer said, told him, “exactly the same thing, kind of verbatim.” Scherzer then gave the Mets permission to trade him, and the next day he went to the Rangers along with approximately $36 million for infielder Luisangel Acuña, a top 100 prospect.

“If they had said, ‘We’re going to hold on to all the ‘24 pieces,’ that would have been a different story,” Scherzer said. “But they were saying no, we’re going to be moving players that are under contract for 2024 before the deadline.

“We walked through some players I had in mind who would be that. It turned out it was much more extensive than that. The players we ended up talking about who are free agents after ‘24, they were more substantial names. Any player who was a free agent after 2024 at the right price could be moved right now at the deadline.

“That’s a completely different vision from what everybody had in the clubhouse. All the players had a vision of, we reload for 2024. That was no longer the case.”

Eppler, speaking to reporters following his trade of Scherzer, said of the Mets’ plan, “I do want to be clear that it’s not a rebuild. It’s not a fire sale. It’s not a liquidation. This is just a repurposing of Steve’s investment in the club, and kind of shifting that investment from the team into the organization.”

But Scherzer, who could have opted out of his three-year, $130 million free-agent contract at the end of the season, said he would have preferred to stay with the team if Eppler and Cohen had told him their intention was to retool quickly.

“If they had said, ‘Hey, we’re looking to compete in 2024’ … I wasn’t itching to get out of New York. I was happy in New York. I had a house. The family was all set up. Spring training (in Port St. Lucie, Fla., near his home in Jupiter).

“I’m not itching to jump ship. I don’t have to chase the ring. I made a three-year commitment with New York. I would honor that if we were going to try and win in 2024. But that wasn’t the case. What was being communicated to me was that there were a lot of pieces being moved for prospects to try to make the 2025 team better.”

Scherzer likely would have been gone by then.

“When they were trying to compete was outside my contract. I said, ‘OK, that’s the math,’” Scherzer said. “That’s basically what Steve said: ‘I never thought in a million years we’d be in this situation, being at the deadline and we’re actually selling. But the math is the math. And the math says this organization needs to retool.’ That was Steve saying that.

“I said, ‘I get it. I’m not here to say you’re wrong.’ It is what it is. I understand from Steve’s perspective that’s the direction he wants to take the team based on where everyone is at within their contracts, arbitration, free agency. That was the new vision for the Mets. That was outside my contract. At that point, that’s when it became binding. I said, I will accept a trade.”

(Top photo: Al Bello / Getty Images)

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