Our Town’s Max Scherzer is a New York Met. Oh, I don’t believe the Mets were his first choice. This was no Godfather movie, but they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Their financial pitch absolutely ranked No. 1 in the competition to cash in. And that’s how Mad Max became Money Max on Monday.
According to multiple media outlets the Mets have agreed to pay Scherzer $130 million over three years.
That averages out to $43.3 million per season.
Wowsa. That’s NBA money! Who does Scherzer think he is, James Harden? If the Houston Rockets can pay point guard John Wall $44.3 million to stay away from the team (true story), then Scherzer is a bargain.
Scherzer deserves every dollar, and he signed on with an erratic franchise that was willing to give him the largest annual value for a contract in MLB history. Scherzer has some extra sweetener; he can opt out after the second season … and why not?
As a gift, Cohen should have given Max his Roy Lichtenstein painting “The Masterpiece,” purchased by Cohen for $165 million in 2017. Isn’t Max a masterpiece of pitching?
The about-to-expire collective bargaining agreement between the MLB owners and players sure was lucrative for Scherzer. Super agent Scott Boras had no problem leveraging the open-market interest in Scherzer to entice gung-ho Mets owner Steve Cohen panting in excitement.
Cohen, the infamous hedge-fund manager, has a personal worth of $16 billion according to Forbes. During an epic power-move weekend, Cohen made it clear that he’s determined to utilize his financial muscle to do whatever the hell he wants to do with payroll. And if it means driving up salaries across major-league baseball, who cares? Gee, that must make other MLB owners very happy (*Sarcasm alert.)
Cohen went on social-media to blast Steven Matz’s agent after the Cardinals signed the left-handed starter to a four-year, $44 million deal. Cohen cried foul, or something, when Matz chose the Cardinals’ offer over Cohen’s bid. The Mets also lost out on other targets this offseason including San Francisco starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, who signed with Toronto. And Cohen felt the burn when the Mets’ own free-agent pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, bolted to the Angels.
Well, Cohen got over these losses in quick fashion. In a rush for free agents the Mets signed outfielder Starling Marte (4 years, $78 million), outfielder Mark Canha (2 years, $26.5 million) and infielder Eduardo Escobar (2 years, $20 million.)
And don’t forget Cohen’s 10-year, $341 million deal for shortstop Francisco Lindor, consummated just before the start of the 2021 season.
Presumably Cohen’s Mets will get around to hiring a manager for the 2022 season.
As for the Cardinals, the Scherzer fantasy was just that. This will close the door on future Scherzer-STL speculation and the related convulsions.
Even though I didn’t think there was much of a chance, I thought MAYBE the Cards would get involved if the market price was between $50 million and $60 million over two years. But as it turns out, that was never in play. The Giants and Dodgers (and other suitors) made aggressive pitches, and that drove up the price to the point of no discount for any interested franchise.
If Cohen wanted Scherzer, he’d have to make history. And he’d have to give him the third year, which other bidders were unwilling to do at such an extreme yearly price. Some would call the Mets’ action an overpay. I don’t. If players can find an owner willing to go into a frenzied determination to sign him at any cost, that’s how the free-market system is supposed to work. And a year after a smart baseball operation like the Dodgers was inexplicably willing to burn their own money by signing the unstable Trevor Bauer — well, at least the Mets invested in a proven commodity and winner.
Even if the Cardinals made an aggressive bid on Scherzer, which they didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered. Not with Steve Cohen in the game, perhaps sweating profusely, willing and able to top any offer presented to Scherzer by another team.
I won’t rip the Cardinals for their reluctance to pay Scherzer $43.3 million per season over the next three years. Sure, we can debate the merit of paying such money. We can have a discussion about investment priorities; if you give Scherzer a record amount, what’s left to spend for 2022? This team still has multiple needs.
And must remember this: there is absolutely no indication that Scherzer had a fever to pitch in St. Louis. As you’ll recall, the Parkway Central grad wouldn’t even entertain the possibility of being dealt to the Cardinals at the trade deadline last summer.
Sure, Maxie was willing to listen to them this offseason — it’s called ‘free agency,’ after all. So why would any player slam the door shut before it’s necessary? As I’ve said many times before, Scherzer wanted to sign with the Cardinals when he became a free agent following the 2014 season. The Cardinals declined. Scherzer has never totally gotten over the sting of rejection.
It’s laughable to think St. Louis ownership-management would even contemplate $43.3 million a year for a pitcher that turns 38 next July — even one of the greatest pitchers of this or any post-expansion generation. Once the price for Scherzer and other elite free-agent starters soared into the stratosphere, Cards president of baseball ops John Mozeliak made sure to intensify his pursuit of Martz, the more affordable and worthy target. The Cardinals beat out several teams — and perhaps as many as seven — by giving Matz a fourth year.
I feel silly asking “what’s next” because Scherzer wasn’t a viable option for the Cardinals. He was never in play. So it’s not as if the Cardinals missed out on a pitcher that never was in their serious plans for 2022. It’s not as if Mozeliak, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and GM Michael Girsch were left in shock — passed out on the carpet — when the news leaked of Scherzer’s union with the Mets. The Cardinals obviously moved on from that twinkle of an idea a few weeks ago.
Still, this got me thinking about finances.
No, not mine.
According to Cots Baseball contracts, the Cardinals already are committed to $147.2 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2022 season. That’s for the 26-man payroll. And they are at $160 million for the competitive-balance tax 40-man payroll.
Last season, Cots listed the Cardinals at $163.5 million for the opening-day 26-man roster, and just over $177 million for the 40-man roster.
Realistically speaking, how much money will the Cardinals actually spend unless they’re willing to substantially grow the payroll. (That sounds like a fine idea to me — but alas, it ain’t my money.) The Cardinals have seven “name” players eligible for salary arbitration this offseason: Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks, Tyler O’Neill, Giovanny Gallegos and Dakota Hudson. Processing deals for those seven players will eat up a good amount of payroll and get them close to last season’s level.
The Cardinals have to do more to improve the overall team, so they’d better figure something out. Matz was a solid signing, but the Redbird front office can’t stop now. On Monday, Mozeliak said the team has offers out on several players. We don’t know any more details, but if the Cardinals are still trying to add talent, it’s an encouraging sign. And now we await the results.
With no new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners close to fruition, MLB is expected to lock the players out on Wednesday night. Both sides have a lot to complain about, or so they say. And I’m already reading some annoying stories on this. But any public empathy for either side was blown away by the gust of cash money that’s gone to free agents so far this offseason. That treasure was willingly spent by owners and their front offices. The people who run baseball teams couldn’t wait to hand it away at exorbitant sums.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, both sides are gathered in suburban Dallas for meetings. They’ll take a swing at finding agreeable terms for a new CBA. Wouldn’t that be nice? Passan isn’t optimistic. “Going nowhere fast,” is how he characterized the state of the negotiations on Monday. “Both the union and the league believe in the strength of their positions. Neither side is willing to budge significantly. Thus, the only chance at a deal is an eleventh-hour Hail Mary.”
If the talks collapse, we’ll be hearing a lot of propaganda about how the current system is broken. How can it be broken when neither side is going broke? There are legitimate issues to discuss and fix, and I’ll dig into them at some point. Here’s my point for now: this spending spree will make fans even more disillusioned in the event of a players vs. owners pie-throwing contest.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.