Wait, it was only 12 days ago that the Mets still didn’t have a general manager? And it was only 10 days ago that Noah Syndergaard said uncertainty in the Mets’ front office helped push him to sign with the Angels in free agency? And it was only five days ago that Mets owner Steve Cohen rage-tweeted, “I guess words and promises don’t matter” after Steven Matz spurned his old team for the Cardinals?
All that mishegas seems like the ancient past now. In a flurry of moves on Friday, the Mets signed free-agent position players Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar. Then on Monday, they landed their biggest prize, reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $130 million deal with Max Scherzer, the best win-now starter available in free agency and, perhaps, the sport.
The Mets now have the majors’ richest owner, most expensive roster, and perhaps loftiest expectations for next season. For a team that stumbled in an eminently winnable division last season and has played in just one playoff game—a 2016 wild-card loss—since reaching the World Series in 2015, it’s clear that the time to win is right now.
Scherzer remains one of the majors’ best pitchers, but at 37 years old, he wasn’t the sort of free agent who was going to demand a long-term deal, à la Gerrit Cole’s nine-year contract with the Yankees, signed at age 29. Instead, Scherzer is compensating with a shorter contract (including an opt-out after the second season) with a record-setting average annual value of $43.3 million per year—a massive 20 percent boost over Cole’s previous record average, but a reasonable one given both Cohen’s wealth and Scherzer’s present-day value for a contender.
The wealthiest owner in baseball should spend like he owns that title, and there aren’t many better targets for his millions than Scherzer. In seven seasons since he signed his first free agent deal, Scherzer has had an ERA above 2.96 just once, in the shortened 2020 campaign. He also leads all pitchers with at least 500 innings in that span in innings, strikeouts, strikeout rate, batting average against, bWAR, and fWAR.
Oh, and the pitcher who ranks second in both flavors of WAR? That would be Jacob deGrom, Scherzer’s new teammate, with whom he forms a fantastically frightening partnership. Given Scherzer’s age and deGrom’s ongoing injury concern, it might be too much of a stretch to deem this duo the clear best in recent memory. (Justin Verlander and Cole finished 1-2 in the AL Cy Young vote just two years ago.) But if they’re healthy, they give the Mets more top-of-the-rotation star power than any other competitor can boast.
The only real concern for Scherzer is his age. At 37, he is four years older than the previous oldest MLB player (Kevin Brown) to sign a nine-figure deal. And the last time we saw him on the mound, he was leaving his lone NLCS appearance early and missing his next start due to fatigue from closing out Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants.
Before that hiccup, though, Scherzer was as stellar as ever in 2021. With a 7-0 record and 1.98 ERA for the Dodgers, he enjoyed one of the best post-trade performances in the history of the July trade deadline. He led the league in both hit and walk rates, and he placed third in the NL Cy Young vote.
He also hasn’t exhibited any of the usual signs of a pitcher who’s aging beyond his means. Scherzer’s electric fastball, for instance, hasn’t lost any velocity since his peak; last year, it was tied for the second-most-valuable four-seamer in the sport, according to FanGraphs, behind only Carlos Rodón’s. His fit in New York’s rotation is so obvious it almost speaks for itself.
The Mets’ offensive upgrades are no slouches, either. They come with their own risks—mainly age, as all three hitters will be 33 on Opening Day next year. But New York really needed a scoring boost after ranking just 27th in runs last year, ahead of only the Rangers, Marlins, and Pirates. Adjust for the Mets’ home park and remove pitcher performance, and they still ranked only 15th in non-pitcher wRC+, worse than every playoff team other than the Brewers.
Marte, Canha, and Escobar aren’t superstars, but they’re all solidly above-average hitters with their own individual flairs—Marte’s speed, Canha’s on-base ability, Escobar’s flexibility as both a switch-hitter and fielder—that make them excellent complementary fits around star hitters like Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor.
The Mets’ new lineup might hit Canha sixth and Escobar seventh, with some combination of Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and the returned-from-suspension Robinson Canó on the bench. That’s a deep group with plenty of platoon possibilities, coverage in case of injuries, and fodder for trades. (Given the need for backups at catcher and shortstop, there isn’t realistically enough room for all the current Mets major league hitters on one roster.)
And for a team that has often suffered from defensive tradeoffs in a desperate attempt to fit extra bats into the lineup, the new trio offers positional flexibility, as well. As a true center fielder, Marte can nudge Brandon Nimmo back to an outfield corner, where he’s best suited; Canha can cover every outfield position if necessary; and Escobar can do the same in the infield, other than the shortstop spot that Lindor should occupy every day.
The roster isn’t flawless, of course—no amount of offseason activity can perfect a 77-win outfit. And it’s not as if Scherzer is replacing a nobody in the Mets rotation: Free agent Marcus Stroman almost certainly won’t re-sign with New York this winter, and he had a 3.02 ERA in 33 starts last year, en route to 3.4 WAR from both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. The health of deGrom’s magical right arm remains a real worry. The bullpen needs more depth with the surprisingly vital Aaron Loup joining Syndergaard in Anaheim. Even with all these upgrades, the Mets might not even be the current NL East favorite, as the divisional competition can’t help but be better in 2022 than it was in 2021. Atlanta, after all, just won the World Series and will get Ronald Acuña Jr. back from injury next year.
But after months of discontent within the Mets organization, encompassing both in-game struggles and front office fiascoes, this whirlwind of activity signals a meaningful change in the team’s on-field direction. At current accounting, the 2022 roster will cost north of $265 million—but when a multi-billionaire has the option to add a true superstar to his team’s roster, and to increase its chances of returning to the playoffs and contending for a title, he should damn the luxury tax and push full speed ahead.