The Mets’ sell-off began in earnest last night when they traded David Robertson to the division-rival Marlins, and further deals are widely expected to come together in the days leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Veteran outfielders Mark Canha and Tommy Pham can be free agents at season’s end — Canha has a 2024 club option — and figure to hold interest to contenders seeking right-handed bats and/or general outfield help. But perhaps no two players will be of as much interest to fans in the next few days as future Hall of Famers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Andy Martino of SNY reports that the Mets have thus far received “moderate” interest in Verlander but have not had meaningful enough talks to even approach the three-time Cy Young winner about waiving his no-trade clause. Scherzer has drawn less interest, per Martino.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported late last night that a pair of executives with other clubs believe there’s a real chance the Mets will ultimately trade Verlander. He listed the Rangers and Astros as potential fits, and Martino adds (without directly tying them to Verlander) that the Angels and Reds have been scouting the Mets of late. Feinsand adds that the Rangers were in on Verlander in the offseason, but the 40-year-old righty was more keen on signing with what he viewed as a contending club in Queens. It’s only reasonable to think he’d view the Rangers more favorably now; Texas is leading the AL West and owns the third-best winning percentage and top run differential in the American League. He’s certainly no stranger to pitching in Texas either, having spent several years with the Astros.
Obviously, there would be plenty of obstacles to any trade actually coming together. First and foremost, both Verlander and Scherzer have full no-trade clauses in their contracts. They’d have to approve any deal, although one can imagine that the opportunity to go from a struggling Mets team into the type of playoff chase both envisioned when signing in New York would be quite enticing. Both players are also earning a record $43.333MM annual salary on the contracts they signed in free agency — a massive number which would rule some contending clubs out entirely. Owner Steve Cohen could of course pay down some of that salary in order to facilitate a trade, but the specifics of how much cash to include and what caliber of prospects to send back for either multi-time Cy Young winner would be difficult to broker.
Beyond the contractual hurdles, the simple fact is that neither Verlander nor Scherzer has pitched as well in 2023 as in recent seasons. Verlander’s 3.24 ERA is a perfect match for his career mark, but this year’s 20.9% strikeout rate 8.2% walk rate are nowhere close to last year’s respective rates of 27.8% and 4.4%. Verlander’s 94.6 mph average fastball, 10% swinging-strike rate and 34.9% opponents’ chase rate are all down slightly from last year’s levels of 95.1 mph, 11.6% and 36.9%, as well.
Verlander, who missed the first five weeks of the season due to a strained teres major, is guaranteed $43.333MM this year and next. His contract contains a conditional $35MM player option for the 2025 season that would vest if he pitches 140 innings next year.
As for Scherzer, he’s sporting a 4.20 ERA that would be the second-highest mark of his career — his worst since a 4.43 showing way back in 2011. His 27.4% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate are down from his 2022 levels (30.6% and 4.2%) but still remain considerably better than the league average. However, he’s also giving up home runs at the highest rate of his career. Scherzer has yielded an average of 1.97 round-trippers per nine innings pitched and seen a whopping 16.8% of his fly-balls leave the yard. The latter of those two numbers seems bound for some regression, but Scherzer is giving up hard contact at his highest levels since Statcast began tracking batted-ball data (89.1 mph average exit velocity, 10.3% barrel rate, 38.7% hard-hit rate).
Scherzer is in the second season of a three-year, $130MM contract pays him $43.333MM annually, but he has the right to opt out of the final year of that deal this winter. Barring a return to vintage form over the final couple months, he’s unlikely to match that type of payday on the open market. However, Scherzer suggested prior to the season that the opt-out was negotiated into his contract in large part to see where the organization stood at that point. He knew his now-former teammate Jacob deGrom had a looming opt-out in his deal and wanted to ensure that the Mets would remain committed to fielding a winning club in the event deGrom departed. The Mets certainly strived to do so in 2023, but things haven’t worked out.
Reports have since suggested that Scherzer is willing to waive his no-trade clause, which is only sensible if winning is his his top priority. His willingness to do so hardly guarantees that a deal will come to fruition, but with the Mets beginning to trade short-term veterans, both Scherzer and Verlander figure to be oft-discussed names over the next four days.