This goes down as a weird one.
The first historical comparison that comes to mind, when wrapping the brain around the reality that 37-year-old Max Scherzer has joined the New York Mets, is 36-year-old Roger Clemens muscling his way into getting traded from the Blue Jays to the Yankees in 1999. Yet The Rocket did that not so much for immediate financial gain (he was mid-contract) as to get a World Series ring, a motivation significantly criticized at the time for some reason.
So no, I can’t recall an apples-to-apples instance of such an accomplished player, someone who would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he retired right now, joining a team he surely didn’t rank high on his list — a team still lacking a manager, let’s not forget — because the money simply proved too much to turn down.
Risks abound with Steve Cohen’s three-year, $130 million gambit on a guy who last made headlines by getting scratched from a playoff start due to fatigue. Yet for these Mets, with this owner, Scherzer represents a worthwhile risk.
The upside stands as sky-high not only because of who Scherzer still can be on the mound, a co-ace with Jacob deGrom, but also because of who he remains in the clubhouse. For an organization desperately in need of a culture cleansing, his arrival feels potentially transformative.
Dusty Baker, during his two years (2016-17) managing the Nationals, urged Washington’s young pitchers to follow Scherzer around and watch his preparation. Scherzer took the initiative of sitting alongside his junior moundsmen when they analyzed video of past performances, serving as a de facto extra pitching coach.
As for his transition to New York, you know by now never to assume a player will cruise through the scrutiny and accountability that our fine region delivers and demands. Though Scherzer, as a nationally recognized player who can be very outspoken about “state of the game” issues like labor turbulence, historically has embraced the spotlight and engages with reporters to the level where he sometimes asks for more time to contemplate a question and returns later with an answer. His Nationals served as the primary rival of Terry Collins’ 2015-16 Mets, and his Tigers eliminated the Yankees in the 2011 and 2012 postseasons. He brings considerable street cred to the toughest street he has worked.
How tough the street gets ties into Scherzer’s performance. Can he replicate the excellence that landed him a third-place showing on the 2021 National League Cy Young Award ballot, the sixth time he placed that high (including three Cy Young trophies)? Can he limit his physical breakdowns to the relatively minor issues that he worked through to start 30 games last season and stay upright through October, pairing with deGrom (who must prove his own good health in the wake of his ’21 nightmare) to give the Mets the game’s best top-of-the-rotation duo? Speaking of which, who will start the April 2 season opener (assuming there’s a new collective bargaining agreement in place) against the Nationals, of all clubs, at Citi Field?
It’ll also be intriguing to see how deGrom, who will make $20.5 million this season as another $15 million gets deferred, feels about pocketing less than half of Scherzer’s $43.33 million. Remember, he can opt out after this season.
Look, if Scherzer winds up as a disaster, his deal would present a good test for Cohen, the game’s richest owner by far, to see how willing he is to toss aside sunk costs and not let them hinder future expenditures. That test will arrive at some point, whether it’s via Scherzer, Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte or a Met to be named later.
If Scherzer wins that race he’d rather lose, he still will be worth this shot. If it’s one of the weirder big deals in recent memory, that doesn’t mitigate how celebrated it could be down the road.