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MLB trade grades: Mets’ sell-off continues with Max Scherzer to Rangers

By Rustin Dodd, Brittany Ghirolli and Stephen J. Nesbitt

Mets get: Luisangel Acuña, SS, 2B, CF
Rangers get: Max Scherzer, RHP; roughly $36 million, covering remaining salary for 2023 and a portion of salary for 2024 because Scherzer has agreed to opt in.

Rustin Dodd: Before the trade was even final — before it was clear if Scherzer would waive his no-trade clause or what the return would be — it already felt like a victory for the Mets, who cleared a chunk from their 2024 payroll and better positioned themselves for their expected Steve Cohen-led front-flip cannonball into the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130 million contract before last season, was exactly what the Mets needed in 2022 when he was healthy, logging a 2.29 ERA in 29 starts and setting the tone with his tenacious personality. But he could not quite replicate the performance this year as he pitched through an assortment of lingering aches and pains. He just turned 39 years old, and while he could still be a productive starter next year, the Mets are making the rational choice here.

Especially if Cohen stays aggressive and can make better use of the money next season.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are in a different position and the urgency is admirable. One thing that seems evident about Rangers general manager Chris Young: Whether it’s the draft, free agency, or the trade market, the former big-league starter isn’t afraid to chase pitching with gusto. The Rangers landed free agent Jacob deGrom last offseason and now, after losing deGrom to injury, they will turn to his former (short-time) teammate to join the top three of Nathan Eovaldi, Dane Dunning and Jon Gray.

OK, there is risk: Scherzer has dealt with side and back issues this year and he missed time with an oblique strain last year. His body has also betrayed him in multiple postseasons, including the 2019 World Series and during a cameo with the Dodgers in 2021. But he’s still been an above-average starter (worth 1.9 bWAR) while being bit by the home run bug this year. If he can limit the long ball and stay healthy, he should help the Rangers fend off the Astros in the AL West and avoid the wild-card round. What’s more, his competitive personality and postseason experience could rub off on his new teammates.

Much of the risk with Scherzer is his health, and the upside is a flag flying inside Globe Life Field. The Rangers are in it to win it.

Mets: A
Rangers: A

Brittany Ghiroli: I like this move for both teams and it’s not often you can say that right away. First, Scherzer going to a win-now Rangers team helps boost a Texas rotation missing deGrom. While Scherzer hasn’t been his typical Cy Young form, he will be reunited with pitching coach Mike Maddux, who was with the Nationals in the same role in both seasons Scherzer won the Cy Young Award there. Scherzer is a fierce competitor and may be buoyed by playing in games down the stretch for a contender.

For the Mets, getting Luisangel Acuña, the Rangers No. 3 prospect, is a huge boon. The young infielder is well-regarded in the industry and is currently at Double A. Part of Steve Cohen’s master plan is improving the Mets farm system and building an operation similar to the Dodgers, and adding the younger Acuña is a step in the right direction. People in baseball remained skeptical about whether Scherzer — who waived his no-trade clause — would be moved and whether the return would be worth it. This is. The Mets have already established themselves as sellers and while they’re expected to pick up some of the Scherzer tab, they nab a top prospect and will save a little cash.

Mets: A
Rangers: A

Stephen J. Nesbitt: Scherzer got his conversation with Mets brass all right. It just wasn’t: “What’s our plan for 2024?” It was: “You like Texas?” And so here he is, Mad Max on the move again at the trade deadline, almost as dramatically as two years ago, and giving the Rangers a certified (and aging) ace as they try holding off Houston in the AL West.

For the Mets, the motivation is no mystery. Cohen is willing to eat gobs of money to try a different tack in 2024. It’s an outrageous sum, somewhere in the range of $36 million, according to reports. But it’s just money. Rather than hitching his wagon next season to Justin Verlander, who’ll be 41, and Scherzer, who’ll turn 40 next summer, for the low, low price of $86.6 million, Cohen will clear a decent chunk of that from the books and spend it elsewhere. The chance to recoup some of Scherzer’s future salary and add a prospect of Acuña’s caliber was too good to resist. Keith Law recently rated Acuña the No. 58 prospect in baseball, a “high-contact, high-steal, doubles-hitting approach” who plays plus defense at shortstop and could do the same in center. Acuña, who’s big brother Ronald just crossed the 50-steal mark this season, is close behind with 42 swipes at Double A. He may not develop tremendous power, but his combination of speed and a disciplined plate approach will play.

My official ruling on the Rangers: Why not, man?! Their middle infield duo of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien is signed through at least 2028. This club can survive without Acuña in the short- and mid-term, and if one day down the road he’s destroying the NL East, at least Rangers fans can appreciate that they lost him in an honest effort to chase a World Series. If you’re going to go all out, you can do a lot worse than betting on a future Hall of Famer, especially if Cohen is willing to hand you $36 million to make it happen.

Rangers: A
Mets: B+

(Top photo of Max Scherzer: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)

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