The Mets split the jury with a question when the money poured out to sign a pair of aging pitchers – did they get to the party a year late?
The Mets, with the arrival of Steve Cohen, were supposed to have transcended the stumbling and bumbling years of the Wilpons when season after season of disappointment and dysfunction were the main fodder for late-night TV hosts and New York radio.
Words of hope became a reality on the field as the Mets won 101 games last year. Ultimately, the team flopped in the playoffs. Still, the air of an upswing in the Mets’ fortunes carried into the offseason as the stirring among major league team owners grew to a roar as they anticipated an onslaught of free-agent signings by Cohen over the winter.
Following the same script as the year before when they jumped the gun to sign 38-year-old Max Scherzer on December 1, 2021, the Mets struck early and forcibly by bringing 40-year-old Justin Verlander into the fold on December 7, 2022.
The Mets Take The Leap
The magnitude of the contracts did not go unnoticed ($90 million invested in the pair for 2023 alone). Still, the upside of having two future Hall Of Famers and a reigning Cy Young winner in Verlander to pair up as a one-two punch leading off the regular season series seemed to overpower the gathering whispers about the durability of the two right-handers.
Scherzer and Verlander were able to shut down the naysayers, though. Mets manager Buck Showalter praised the pair for their ability to pitch rather than throw a baseball and for the experience gained over the years in “knowing” the limits of their bodies.
Still, I venture to say there was hardly a Mets fan who wasn’t summoning a wish and a prayer there was at least one more year of good health and dominance on the horizon in 2023 for Scherzer and Verlander.
After all, it was only Steve Cohen’s play money, and if 2023 brought a World Series to New York, then the gamble was all worth it, and the hell with the next two years, healthy or not, who would care?
If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will
Alas, no one had a crystal ball then, and neither does anyone have one now – but a quarter of the 2023 Mets season has passed; Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have combined to make only nine starts. Measured against what would typically be the tenth start for each the next time their turn comes around, the disaster of the Mets season quickly comes into view.
It’s not so much that, save for one auspicious start by Verlander, a seven-inning two-hit effort against the Reds, neither has been effective as much as the pair’s inability to pitch deep into games.
Last night, for instance, The Rays knocked Verlander out after five innings as he allowed six runs on eight hits with two walks and only three strikeouts. Similarly, Scherzer had to noticeably struggle to complete five innings on 83 pitches against the Washington Nationals in his last start.
As fans know, the Mets bullpen began the season heavily taxed by the injury suffered by Edwin Diaz, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic in March.
Since then, it’s only gotten worse for the Mets bullpen as a starter after the starter is unable to pitch beyond the fifth inning (and sometimes less), causing a mess for Buck Showalter and pitching coach Jeremy Heffner to sort out by backfilling innings day after day.
The lack of Mets relievers exacerbates the problem, save for Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, and Drew Smith (of late), to rise to the forefront by providing genuine “relief” to the starters.
The non-professional events surrounding Max Scherzer’s tenure with the Mets add an accelerant to the fire. His “prima-donna” – don’t touch me” act may have been tolerated on his teams previously, as three Cy Young awards speak for themselves, but this Mets team is struggling and losing – as is Scherzer.
Similarly, MLB’s ten-game suspension leveled on Scherzer for cheating did not go unnoticed by the Mets, who ordered him not to appeal the suspension.
The Mets Are In The Deep End Of The Pool
Even though “it gets late early out here” (one of the best Yogisms), there has to be a new beginning somewhere for these two outstanding pitchers.
By any stretch, the Mets season is not lost, and even if the Atlanta Braves are proving themselves to be the cream of the NL East, a Wild Card will remain within reach.
It was thought that the Mets were beyond the false starts and inane moves (think Robinson Cano, Keon Broxton, Jake Marisnick, Todd Frazier, et al.) made by their former GM, Brodie VanWagenen and that the bravado of Steve Cohen and the savvy of GM Billy Eppier had taken the team on a new path.
There can be no mistake, though. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are the two elephants in the room for the Mets, and the team will rise or fall based on what the two can deliver for the rest of the season.
The Mets paid big time to bring them aboard. Now, it’s on both players to show their pedigree is still intact and the first quarter of the season is just a temporary misfire.