The New York Mets took the field five months ago believing they were headed to the World Series with the biggest and fattest payroll in baseball history, a team loaded with Cy Young winners, All-Stars and MVPs.
Who could have imagined they’d turn around and engineer one of the quickest teardowns in baseball history?
The Mets began taking a sledgehammer to the team Saturday by trading three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers for prized prospect Luisangel Acuna, and have opened trade talks with the Astros to send Justin Verlander back to Houston. The deal, with the Mets covering all but $22.5 million owed to Scherzer, became official when Scherzer waived his no-trade clause and agreed to exercise his $43.3 million player option in 2024.
Just like that, there’s the blockbuster hit of the summer, with the narrative that winning the winter in trades and free agent signings doesn’t mean a single darn thing in the summer.
The Mets proved just that as they self-imploded, sitting with a 49-54 record entering Saturday night, 17 games out of first place.
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The Mets tipped their hand when they traded closer David Robertson on Thursday night to the Miami Marlins, angering Scherzer, who said that he wanted to have a discussion with the Mets front office about its plans.
Well, Scherzer quickly discovered that he was part of their plans to rebuild and he was informed Saturday afternoon that they reached a deal to send him to the Rangers. Scherzer, who has a full no-trade clause, waived his no-trade rights later in the day when he agreed to pick up his player option through 2024. He got a nice raise simply playing his home games in Texas, where there are no state taxes, instead of New York. He lives during the offseason in Florida, where there also are no state taxes.
The Mets are also working on a deal with the Astros, who would love to have Verlander back if the price is right. A high-ranking Astros official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly said they would want the Mets to pay a significant portion of his $43.3 million contract this year and next year, that includes a $35 million club option that vests if he pitches at least 140 innings in 2024. The option year, one official said, could be a hang-up in the deal
So, just like that, the Mets are the biggest sellers at the deadline and the Rangers, who dropped $700 million in free agency the last two winters, including $185 million on former Mets Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, are the biggest buyers.
“We’re trying to balance the best interests of the team but also balance the best interests of the organization,” Mets GM Billy Eppler told reporters. “And sometimes those are more perpendicular than they are parallel. It’s tough.”
The Mets, who now will unload outfielders Tommy Pham and Mark Canha, and start over in the winter with former Brewers GM David Stearns heading to New York to become president of baseball operations. At least now, he’ll have a clean slate with a whole lot of money coming off the books if Verlander departs, too.
Still, there figures to be a whole lot of dead money on the books in exchange for getting better prospects. He already is paying about $55 million to players no longer in the organization, which could double with Scherzer and Verlander. The Mets are responsible for $36.6 million of Scherzer’s remaining contract if he stays in Texas through 2024, with the Rangers paying just $22.5 million.
Certainly, it was an abrupt about-face that no one envisioned.
Really, no one expected the Mets to be this bad, and if the Mets indeed are even slightly rebuilding, Scherzer wanted no part of it.
He just turned 39 years old, has been to the postseason nine times, including the last four full seasons, and wasn’t about to spend the last few years of his career playing for a rebuilding team.
So Scherzer leaves. Verlander could join him.
And, oh, how baseball’s trade deadline suddenly lit up the New York skyline.
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