In 15 years as a professional baseball player, Max Scherzer has signed contracts worth more than $370 million. It’s appropriate compensation for “one of the greatest pitchers of this or any generation,” as the Mets owner Steven A. Cohen called him Wednesday. Cohen will back that belief by paying Scherzer a record annual salary of $43.3 million through 2024.
Scherzer, as you might expect, has a high opinion of his new boss, who crossed Major League Baseball’s luxury tax threshold to sign him. The other owners, almost all of whom pretend baseball has a salary cap, are the ones harassing him.
“That’s something specific that we’re negotiating now: how teams see that as a limit and that they don’t spend too much on it, despite the penalties for that being actually pretty negligible,” said Scherzer, who is a member of the executive subcommittee. from the players’ union, about Zoom of Irving, Texas. “So to see Steve show the determination to get past it and show that he will do everything he can to win, that’s music to my ears.”
If it sounds inappropriate to hear talk of a labor war in an industry awash in cash — well, as they say, that’s baseball. The first work stoppage since 1995 started just after midnight on Thursday with a lock-out as a result of the expiry of the collective labor agreement.
For the Mets, it all seems tedious. Cohen, with an estimated net worth of more than $14 billion, is eager to start his second year as the owner of his favorite team. He didn’t care, he said, if his spending sent a message to the rest of the league.
“I told you last year I wanted to win,” Cohen said. “I was talking about persistently winning and winning championships – and I meant it.”
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He later added: “I’m worried about the New York Mets and I’m worried about the fan base. I feel like I’ve made a commitment to them and I want to deliver on that.”
Scherzer, 37, is just the last pitcher to stop in Queens en route to Cooperstown. Tom Glavine earned 242 wins and two Cy Young Awards when he signed with the Mets as a free agent in December 2002. Pedro Martinez had 182 wins and three Cy Young Awards when he did so two years later.
Both pitchers were well into their thirties and would have some highlights with the Mets. But neither would ever appear on another Cy Young ballot or lift the Mets to the World Series. Scherzer, who has 190 wins and three Cy Youngs, understands he needs to do more.
“The pressure of this is a privilege, it’s not a problem,” he said. “I really enjoy being where you’re expected to win, and that’s what we have to do here. That is my job and I enjoy doing it.”
The Mets lost starter Marcus Stroman on Wednesday — he tweeted that he had signed with the Chicago Cubs – but upgraded significantly with Scherzer, who, at least for now, is the only pitcher in Major League history to strike out more than 3,000 and walk less than 700. Scherzer will team up with Jacob deGrom for a top of the rotation that inspires awe even among teammates.
“I’ve never actually seen Max or Jacob pitch in person,” said Mark Canha, the former Oakland outfielder, who signed a $26.5 million two-year contract with the Mets this week. “I’m really excited to see their magnificence and to see their routines, to see how they do their job at the clubhouse. I feel ready to be inspired by that.”
DeGrom, 33, missed the second half of last season with an injured elbow. Scherzer was also unavailable at the end of the season, as he lost it in the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers after a heavy workload in the early rounds.
“I overcooked my arm for a situation,” said Scherzer, referring to his save to get a division series in San Francisco. “I went beyond my work ability, which I was built for. Unfortunately that happened. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it did. But from a long-term standpoint, a structural standpoint, a health standpoint, I’m ready.”
In the regular season, Scherzer worked 179 ⅓ innings, a total that would have led the Mets. He was good enough in the first half to start the All-Star Game, then got even better after a trade from Washington to the Dodgers in late July, going 7-0 with an earned run average of 1.98. Overall, Scherzer was 15-4 with a career-low 2.46 ERA and 0.864 WHIP (walks plus basehits per inning pitched), leading the majors.
For Scherzer, the Mets’ deal suited his family and underlined his sense of brotherhood with fellow players. He and his wife have three young children and live in Jupiter, Florida, near the Mets show jumping training complex in Port St. Lucie. Scherzer also broke the previous record for average annual salary — $36 million for Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, also represented by Scott Boras — in keeping with his history of fighting for value.
Scherzer was the last first-round pick of his 2006 draft class to sign, joining an independent league team before landing a major league deal from Arizona worth $4.3 million. He was handed out to Detroit, where he won his first Cy Young Award and turned down a $144 million contract extension. The decision paid off as the Nationals gave Scherzer $210 million as a free agent.
“I’ve been a big beneficiary of a lot of players before going out to fight for those deals and fight for those extra years,” he said. “That puts me in a position to continue that fight. I’m happy to do it and hopefully that will help future players too.”
Signing a three-year $130 million contract to play for a highly motivated owner in an ideal location isn’t a sacrifice, of course. The system has worked well for Scherzer, but the sport is not as healthy as it should be, he says. No other owner should spend as much as Cohen, but more should make a better effort to win.
“We’re trying to make the game more competitive in several ways,” Scherzer said. “There are so many different ways as players, as a whole, that we believe we can make the game better. And we are absolutely committed to doing that.”