The Mets have dropped seven of their last ten, leaving them at 35-43 heading into Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee. Coming off a 101-win season and boasting the highest player payroll in MLB history, they’re on the shortlist of the most disappointing teams in the league.
A little more than a month from the trade deadline, New York could wind up being one of the more fascinating clubs to follow. Ownership and the front office would surely prefer the club plays its way back into contention and puts them in position to add this summer, though that’s no small feat. Hopes of winning the NL East are gone, and the team sits 8 1/2 games out of the last Wild Card spot with six teams to surpass.
If the Mets pivot to selling off veteran pieces, opposing teams could at least ponder a run at Max Scherzer. The three-time Cy Young award winner is in the second season of a three-year, $130MM free agent deal. He’s making an MLB-record $43.333MM annually and can opt out and retest free agency at season’s end.
Scherzer’s deal contains a full no-trade clause, so the Mets couldn’t move him without his consent. Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports that Scherzer is amenable to waiving the provision in the right circumstances — presumably one that’d see him shipped to a team with legitimate 2023 championship aspirations. Scherzer famously waived a no-trade clause in his deal with the Nationals at the 2021 deadline, enabling the stunner that landed him and Trea Turner in Dodger blue.
That’s not to say a trade is likely this time around. The no-trade clause is one of myriad roadblocks. The Mets aren’t going to pull the plug on the ’23 season until absolutely necessary; the roster still has a few weeks to take itself off the bubble. Even if the Mets were to consider moving veteran players, parting with Scherzer would represent a much bigger decision than relinquishing pure rentals like David Robertson and Tommy Pham.
While Scherzer could join Robertson and Pham on the open market, he’s by no means a lock to do so. He’d have to forfeit the largest single-year salary in MLB history. Scherzer isn’t performing at vintage level and will turn 39 next month, so there’s no assurance he’d do much better than $43.333MM on the open market. The eight-time All-Star might be able to top that guarantee but would probably have to spread it over a two-year deal with lesser yearly salaries.
Over 13 starts and 70 2/3 innings, he’s carrying a 3.95 ERA. His 26.2% strikeout rate is still quite good but a few points below typical levels. His velocity and swinging strike numbers aren’t far off his customary marks, though he’s allowing home runs at a career-high clip.
If the Mets feel Scherzer is unlikely to opt out, they could view dealing him this summer as too much of a blow to their 2024 chances even if they’re definitively out of this year’s mix. The record salaries, meanwhile, could be a problem for teams considering a run at him. It’s unlikely another franchise would absorb the approximate $14.2MM Scherzer will collect between August 1 and season’s end, to say nothing of the ’24 commitment they could assume if he doesn’t test free agency.
Of course, the Mets could shoulder much of Scherzer’s deal to facilitate a trade if they wanted to restock the farm system. Andy Martino of SNY reported last week that owner Steve Cohen was willing to leverage his spending capacity to bolster the prospect pipeline — either by taking on another team’s undesirable deal or covering contracts of players shipped out of Queens. New York put that into action by paying down Eduardo Escobar’s $9.5MM salary to the league minimum to facilitate his trade to the Angels.
Doing the same with Scherzer would be in a completely different stratosphere — both in terms of the money New York is retaining and the hit they’d deal to the MLB roster. There’s no indication it’s a consideration right now. That Scherzer doesn’t appear categorically opposed to changing uniforms at least leaves open the possibility of a second blockbuster in three years, but the no-trade clause is far from the only impediment.