‘The Pressure of This Is a Privilege’
In 15 years as a professional baseball player, Max Scherzer has signed contracts worth more than $370 million. It is fitting compensation for “one of the greatest pitchers of this or any generation,” as Steven A. Cohen, the Mets’ owner, called him on Wednesday. Cohen will support that belief by paying Scherzer a record annual salary of $43.3 million through 2024.
Scherzer, as you might expect, thinks very highly of his new boss, who blew past Major League Baseball’s luxury-tax threshold to sign him. The other owners, almost all of whom act as if baseball has a salary cap, are the ones who bother him.
“That’s a specific thing that we’re negotiating on right now: how teams view that as a cap and they won’t really spend too much over that, despite the penalties on that actually being pretty negligible, comparatively,” said Scherzer, who is part of the players’ union’s executive subcommittee, over Zoom from Irving, Texas. “So to see Steve show the fortitude to be able to go past it, and show that he’s going to do whatever it takes to win, that’s music to my ears.”
If it sounds off-key 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 was set to begin at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday with a lockout triggered by the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
To the Mets, it all seems like a nuisance. Cohen, with an estimated net worth of more than $14 billion, is eager to get going in his second year as the owner of his favorite team. He did not 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 talked about sustained winning and winning championships — and I meant it.”
He added later: “I’m concerned about the New York Mets, and I’m concerned about the fan base. I feel like I made a commitment to them, and I want to deliver on that.”
Scherzer, 37, is only the latest pitcher to stop in Queens on his way to Cooperstown. Tom Glavine had 242 victories and two Cy Young Awards when he signed as a free agent with the Mets 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 30s 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 must 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’re here to do. That’s my job and I love doing it.”
Scherzer gives the Mets a second ace, alongside Jacob deGrom, 33, the wondrous but fragile right-hander who missed the second half of last season with an injured elbow. Scherzer was also unavailable at the end of the season, wearing down in the National League Championship Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers after a heavy workload in the early rounds.
“I overcooked my arm for a situation,” Scherzer said, referring to his save to clinch a division series in San Francisco. “I went past my work capacity, what I was built up for. Unfortunately, that happened. I didn’t foresee that happening, but it did. But from a long-term standpoint, a structural standpoint, a health standpoint, I’m ready to go.”
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, and got even better after a trade from Washington to the Dodgers in late July, going 7-0 with a 1.98 earned run average. Overall, Scherzer was 15-4 with a career-low 2.46 E.R.A. and 0.864 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), which led the majors.
For Scherzer, the Mets’ deal fit for his family and underscored his sense of brotherhood to fellow players. He and his wife have three young children and live in Jupiter, Fla., near the Mets’ spring training complex in Port St. Lucie. Scherzer also smashed 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 from his 2006 draft class to sign, joining an independent league team before getting a major league deal from Arizona worth $4.3 million. He was dealt to Detroit, where he won his first Cy Young Award and turned down a $144 million contract extension. The decision paid off when the Nationals gave Scherzer $210 million as a free agent.
“I’ve been a big beneficiary of many players before me going out and fighting for those deals and fighting for those extra years,” he said. “That gives me the position to continue that fight. I’m happy to do it and hopefully that helps out future players as well.”
It is not a sacrifice, of course, to sign a three-year, $130 million contract to play for a highly motivated owner in an ideal location. The system has worked well for Scherzer, but the sport, he believes, is not as healthy as it should be. No other owner may spend like Cohen, but more should make a better effort to win.
“We’re trying to make the game more competitive, through various means,” Scherzer said. “There’s so many different ways as players, as a whole, that we believe we can make the game better. And we’re absolutely committed to doing that.”