Season Lost, Scherzer Gone

The contemporary Mets fan, to whom a season is usually lost over one terrible inning in early to mid-April, sees Max Scherzer speaking without boilerplate about talking to the front office regarding, stop, hey, what's that plan, after the Mets traded solid relief pitcher David Robertson to the Marlins for a prime-looking prospect. And, is barely amused.

Then, they see the three-time Cy Young Award-winning future Hall of Famer traded within a day or so to the American League West-leading Rangers, for a more prime-looking prospect. They are somewhere between dryly amused and snarkily contemptuous. Not to mention terribly inattentive or misinformed.

Nobody questions that age has begun to catch up to the right-hander. Assorted small injuries plus lingering issues with his back and his side did a little too much to keep him from resembling his vintage self. One moment, Scherzer did a plausible impression of what he once was. The next, he did a plausible impression of a piñata.

There are some who see this year's 9-4 won-lost record and say, so there! There are others who see this year's 4.01 ERA and 4.73 fielding-independent pitching rate (FIP) and see a man whose youth and prime may not be visible in the rear view mirror anymore.

When the Mets traded Robertson a few days ago, Scherzer didn't hold back. He was neither nasty nor snarky about saying it was time for him to talk to the Mets' front office about the rest of the season and just who projected what. But, first, he was honest enough to begin with a sober assessment of the Mets' deflating season thus far.

"[O]bviously, we put ourselves in this position," he said. "We haven't played well enough as a team. I've had a hand in that for why we're in the position that we're at. Can't get mad at anybody but yourself, but it stinks."

Then he went forward: "You have to talk to the brass. You have to understand what they see, what they're going to do. That's the best I can tell you. I told you I wasn't going to comment on this until [owner] Steve [Cohen] was going to sell. We traded Robertson. Now we need to have a conversation."

That was after Scherzer looked a little like the old Max the Knife against his old team, the Nationals: striking 7 out in seven innings, scattering 6 hits one of which was a solo home run, and the Mets rewarding him with a 5-1 win, not to mention their seventh win in 11 games. But still.

Some Met fans think the front office elected to punt on third down, metaphorically speaking. Others think that, when Scherzer said they "needed to have a conversation," it might have meant a conversation about Texas being the next destination for Scherzer himself.

If that involved Scherzer agreeing to go from the sinking Mets to a division-leading troop of Rangers in return for a prize prospect who turns out to be Ronald Acuña, Jr.'s promising brother, it probably took less than we think (even allowing the time) for Scherzer to say yes to one more active, not passive pennant race.

Scherzer had to waive his no-trade clause and exercise his contract's 2024 opt-in to make the deal. Luisangel Acuña is a middle infielder and centerfielder with a live bat (if not always as powerful as big brother's) who can hit pitching from both sides readily, and wheels to burn on the bases. (42 stolen bases in 82 games; an .894 stolen base percentage.) Most known analyses of him say his challenge is to harness his aggressiveness.

The prime issue for Scherzer at 38 is staying healthy and avoiding home runs. His 1.9 home runs per nine this season are a career high. Yet, his tenure as a Met overall hasn't exactly been a wash. His Met totals include a 3.02 ERA, a 3.52 FIP, and a 1.02 walks/hits per inning pitched rate. And, a 10.05 strikeouts-per nine rate with a 5.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

But they also include his having run out of fuel in Game One of last year's National League wild card series, battered for four home runs that accounted for all the Padres scoring in a 7-1 loss.

"If [Scherzer] can limit the long ball and stay healthy," observes The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli, "he should help the Rangers fend off the Astro in the AL West and avoid the wild card round. What's more, his competitive personality and postseason experience could rub off on his new teammates."

He'll join a Rangers rotation that took a hit when former Met superpitcher Jacob deGrom went down to Tommy John surgery, but resuscitated itself via Nathan Eovaldi and Dane Dunning. He'll be backed by a bullpen anchored by Will Smith. And a roster hitting .274. So far.

Mets players said goodbye to Scherzer Saturday night, during a rain delay before a game against the Nats that ended in an 11-6 Nats win. Surely they also started wondering what else and who else after Max the Knife could be talked into waiving his no-trade clause. They might have cast eyes first upon Justin Verlander, who's showing his age, as well, but who shook an early injury to look a little better than his old Detroit rotation mate this year.

"It's not a certainty that Verlander will be traded," say Athletic writers Will Sammon and Tim Britton, "but the Scherzer deal offered a blueprint of what to expect should the Mets decide to unload their other top starter. Verlander has performed better than Scherzer and, in theory, should net a better prospect.

"However, Verlander also has a no-trade clause in addition to being under contract for 2024 with a vesting option for 2025. It's also unknown whether the Scherzer trade made Verlander feel any different about playing for the Mets." Not to mention whether reported serious interest from the Dodgers, the Rangers, and Verlander's old team in Houston might compel him to revisit his feelings.

The Mets barely said goodbye to Scherzer when Sports Illustrated reported they were in, quote, deep talks with the Astros about bringing back the future Hall of Famer who won an unlikely Cy Young Award in their silks last year, but signed with the Mets as an offseason free agent. Unlikely because Verlander's the oldest pitcher to win the prize after returning from late-career Tommy John surgery.

As with Scherzer, the Mets will likely demand a choice prospect or two (or even three) while the Astros will likely insist the Mets help them pay for Verlander's return, including his 2025 vesting option. As the Rangers did with Max the Knife, the Astros may not be averse to helping the Mets continue their farm replenishment and remake for the privilege of one more term with JV.

There's just one problem with that idea, from the Houston side, insinuated by Three Inning Fan podcaster Kelly Franco Throop: "[T]hey have nothing to give: they are considered to have one of the worst farm systems in the game."

So much for providing a delicious pickle in the AL West, the two who once headed the Tigers' rotation together going against each other to help decide that division. As of this morning, the Astros were only a game behind the Rangers in the division and in a dead heat with the Blue Jays for AL wild card number one.

The Mets may have pushed the plunger on a 2023 that was getting away from them through too much fault of their own, but all is not necessarily lost. There's 2024 toward which to gaze.

There's also a very outside chance that losing their best reliever and one of their better starters sticks the ginger into their tails. They're "only" seven back in the National League wild card race. But a Met fan since the day they were born says, "Anything can happen (and often enough does)." Today's patience-of-a-Nile-crocodile Met fan says, "This year's been next year since the end of spring training."

Playing the trade deadline period for prime prospects is a win-win, too. Either they become better than useful Mets soon enough, or they provide fodder for a bigger/better deal or three down the road.

Even if all they've sacrificed yet is Max the Knife and their best relief pitcher, the Mets are still in position to bring a certain front line starting pitcher into the ranks for a longer period and potentially better results. The unicorn who now wears Angels silks, threatens Aaron Judge's AL single-season home run record while he's at it, and becomes a free agent after this season.

On this much the lifelong Met fan and the contemporary Met fan can agree: the Mets are many things. Dull isn't one of them.

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