Not even two weeks after hiring Billy Eppler to run their front office, the New York Mets have quickly positioned themselves as World Series contenders after a $255 million free-agent spending binge that culminated with The Big One on Monday.
As Jon Heyman of MLB Network first reported, the Mets are bringing aboard three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on a three-year, $130 million contract. The deal is worth $43.3 million per year, which tops Gerrit Cole's previous record for average annual value and is even more than some teams have committed to 2022:
Jeff Passan @JeffPassan
Estimated current opening day payrolls, per <a href="https://twitter.com/baseballpro?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@baseballpro</a>:<br><br>Seattle Mariners: $57 million<br>Cleveland Guardians: $46.7 million<br>Max Scherzer: $43.3 million<br>Pittsburgh Pirates: $40.2 million<br>Baltimore Orioles: $37 million
It's still early in Major League Baseball's 2021-22 offseason, and there's obviously the question of what will happen when the league's collective bargaining agreement expires Wednesday.
For now, though, the Mets' recent deals with Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and especially Scherzer have had the desired effect of washing away the sour taste left from their 85-loss 2021 campaign. Their odds of winning the 2022 World Series have effectively doubled, and they've likewise leaped to third on FanGraphs' WAR projections for next year.
This Is a Risky Signing for the Mets
Even setting aside the monetary aspect, there would be an inherent element of risk in the Scherzer deal if for no other reason than his recent postseason journey with the Los Angeles Dodgers was cut short by a dead arm.
But there's also his age and his workload.
Even including last year's pandemic-shortened season, the 37-year-old Scherzer averaged 185 innings per year during his 30s. Though other pitchers have handled similar workloads between the ages of 30 and 36 in the last decade, the cautionary tale there is that none of them subsequently put forth an ace-like season at the age of 37.
The best hope to do so would have been Justin Verlander in 2020, when he was fresh of winning his second Cy Young Award in 2019. Instead, he made only one start before suffering an injury that eventually necessitated Tommy John surgery.
These aren't good omens, and it isn't as if Scherzer is joining a starting rotation that's otherwise devoid of medical red flags.
The Mets' other two aces, two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and the somehow undecorated Carlos Carrasco, made 27 total starts in 2021 because of elbow and hamstring injuries, respectively. That's three fewer starts than Scherzer made on his own for the Dodgers and Washington Nationals.
Let there be no mistake about it: This trio is liable to crash and burn in 2022.
However, The Upside Is Huge
Though the scary possibilities of Scherzer's deal can't be ignored, there are good reasons that the Mets were willing to break records to sign him.
In addition to winning the Cy Young Award in 2013, 2016 and 2017, Scherzer was also a top-three finisher in the voting in three of the last four seasons. That includes 2021, during which he ripped off a 2.46 ERA and 200 more strikeouts than walks over 179.1 innings.
And yet, Scherzer figures to be only the Mets' No. 2 starter when they open their 2022 season. If healthy, the Opening Day nod will almost certainly be deGrom, and deservedly so.
Though the 33-year-old could make only 15 starts in 2021, he struck out 146 batters and finished with a 1.08 ERA. It isn't an official record, yet that is the lowest ERA ever for a pitcher with 15 starts in a season during the Live-Ball Era.
Neither Scherzer nor any other starter can match deGrom in average fastball velocity, yet he is one of the only pitchers in baseball whose general electricity rivals deGrom's. They ranked first and fifth, respectively, in contact rate within the strike zone in 2021.
The 34-year-old Carrasco did little to impress while pitching to a 6.04 ERA in the 12 starts he made after coming off the injured list. But he pitched like an ace in 2020 to the tune of a 2.91 ERA for the Cleveland Guardians. Before that, he enjoyed a four-year run between 2015 and 2018 as one of the American League's top hurlers.
No matter the size of the "if," the "if healthy" possibility of a deGrom-Scherzer-Carrasco trio can't be underplayed. They could be the best threesome that baseball has seen since the Philadelphia Phillies were trotting out Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in 2011.
The Mets Have the Right Idea About Their Window
The Mets' top three pitchers are hardly the only 30-somethings on their roster. That label also applies to Marte, Escobar and Canha, as well as incumbent lineup mainstays James McCann and Robinson Cano and relievers Trevor May and Seth Lugo.
Knowing this, Eppler arguably would have been better served investing owner Steve Cohen's billions in younger free agents. You know, the Carlos Correas and Corey Seagers of the market. That way, they might have arranged a mix of young and veteran stars worthy of a truly modern contender.
However, signing younger stars would have required longer, more lucrative contracts. Correa, for example, could command a 10-year deal worth $100 million more than the Mets have paid out to four guys in recent days. A team should only do a deal like that if it's playing a long game, which the Mets shouldn't be playing right now.
Beneath the team's generally aging roster is a farm system that's something less than a gold mine of prospects. Though the Mets' system boasts three top-100 talents, MLB.com still ranked it only 22nd back in August. When faced with things like these, the idea of "sustainability" is more an abstraction than a readily attainable thing.
Meanwhile, the Mets have clear paths to the top of the NL East and the entire National League. Atlanta is currently without its MVPs from the National League Championship and World Series, not to mention its best player since Chipper Jones, and the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are presently in pieces.
So, the Mets have rightfully thrown caution to the wind and gone all-in on winning right now.
A lot will need to go right. For starters, the Mets still have to hire the right person to manage the team. And when the 2022 season begins, their star-studded rotation won't be the only unit under pressure.
The Mets will also need a great deal more offense than they got in 2021. Specifically, from Francisco Lindor, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil after they mustered a collective 94 wRC+ this season.
But if it all works as intended, the Mets will have a chance to live up to what the super-duper-early prognostications for 2022 make of them. That isn't just a great team, but a legitimate World Series threat.
If not, well, there will be no faulting them for the manner in which they tried.