KANSAS CITY — In the hours before the Mets made a franchise-altering trade of Max Scherzer last weekend, precipitating a historic sell-off prior to Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, Scherzer spoke to owner Steve Cohen and learned what the rest of the baseball world soon would.
“Max asked me straight,” Cohen said. “He goes, ‘Are you going to be all-in on free agency next year?’ And I couldn’t give him that promise.”
With that, the wheels of everything that followed — the trade of Scherzer, a trade of Justin Verlander, plus several other transactions that transformed the face of baseball’s most expensive roster — shuddered into motion. Speaking Wednesday from Kauffman Stadium before a 4-0 loss to the Royals, Cohen defended those moves as well as the general direction of the franchise, saying he “saw no indication that things were changing enough” with the team’s pre-Deadline play to warrant any other course of action.
“I said before, ‘Hope’s not a strategy,’” Cohen said, referencing a June press conference in which he hinted at his plans if the Mets failed to improve. “Now, saying that, we didn’t have any idea of what was possible at the Deadline, and we weren’t just going to do deals for the sake of doing deals. But we thought we got a great return for the people we ended up trading.”
Cohen, who was in Kansas City on a preplanned social trip with members of his college fraternity, stopped by the Mets clubhouse to deliver his personal message to the team — particularly to shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who are both under contract beyond the end of this decade.
Upon learning of the Scherzer trade on Saturday, Nimmo said he had trouble sleeping. He had signed an eight-year contract under the premise that the Mets would be consistently competitive.
That, Cohen reiterated, is still the plan, even if the team takes a strategic step back in 2024.
“It was a lot of anxiety,” Nimmo said of last weekend. “I was just stressed out about, ‘OK, what does it mean for this year?’ Because the [David] Robertson trade was one thing, but Scherzer was another. And then it was, ‘OK, now what does it mean for next year?’ Because he was signed for next year. I was just trying to get a grasp on everything.”
General manager Billy Eppler did what he could to ease the minds of Nimmo and Lindor, but Cohen wanted to deliver a personal message as well. So he showed up to the team’s open clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, chatting with various players and coaches including a lengthy closed-door meeting with manager Buck Showalter.
Afterward, Cohen offered his thoughts on various elements of the team.
On his plan for the 2024 roster: “It won’t be as star-studded team as it was, but stars don’t necessarily make for wins. I think we’re going to be highly competitive. … The expectations were really high this year. My guess is next year they’ll be a little lower. But I can’t speak to the offseason. I’m opportunistic. I don’t want to roll a team out there we’ll be embarrassed by.”
On Pete Alonso, who can become a free agent after 2024: “We love Pete as a Met. He’s an integral part of the Mets. He’s still with us for another year. We hope we work things out. Even with [Nimmo], we worked things out in free agency. Hopefully, we’ll get a few [bites] at the apple and try to figure it out.”
Cohen stopped short of saying he intends to negotiate an extension with Alonso but added: “Pete is a great Met.”
On Showalter, whose contract also runs through 2024: “Anything’s possible, but I’ve got a three-year contract with Buck, and Buck’s working his [butt] off doing a good job. … I don’t put it on Buck. I put it on the players.”
On Eppler, who could have a new boss if the Mets hire a president of baseball operations as planned this winter: “As you witnessed at the Trade Deadline, I think Billy did a phenomenal job.”
Essentially, Cohen lauded the franchise, its operations and several of its more prominent members, while reserving the right to change his mind at any point. Much as he was intimately involved in the Mets’ baseball operations leading up to the Trade Deadline, Cohen expects to continue playing a major role in their future direction.
“I own the club, right?” he said. “Don’t forget that.”