2023 MLB trade deadline: Max Scherzer says Mets brass don't intend to compete until 2025 'at the earliest'

On Sunday, New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler told reporters of the team's trade deadline moves: "It's not a rebuild. It's not a fire sale."

That was after the Mets traded starter Max Scherzer and closer David Robertson.

On Tuesday, the Mets traded three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros and outfielder Tommy Pham to the Arizona Diamondbacks. And Scherzer, now a Texas Ranger, opened up on what Eppler told him about the Mets' future plans. It sure sounds like a fire sale — at least, according to Scherzer's account.

Scherzer spoke candidly with the Athletic's Ken Rosenthal about his conversation with Eppler. Per Scherzer, the Mets not only don't intend to contend this season but also are now eyeing 2026 or 2025 "at the earliest" to compete.

“I talked to Billy,” Scherzer said. “I was like, ‘OK, are we reloading for 2024?’ He goes, ‘No, we’re not. Basically our vision now is for 2025-2026, ‘25 at the earliest. More like ‘26. We’re going to be making trades around that.’

“I was like, ‘So the team is not going to be pursuing free agents this offseason or assemble a team that can compete for a World Series next year?’ He said, ‘No, we’re not going to be signing the upper-echelon guys. We’re going to be on the smaller deals within free agency. ‘24 is now looking to be more of a kind of transitory year.'"

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Scherzer, 39, had heard enough. He green-lit his departure to a Rangers team going all-in to win this season. Verlander likewise waived a no-trade clause to hasten his return to an Astros team with which he won two World Series rings.

Eppler responded later Tuesday, conceding the team wouldn't approach 2024 the way it did this season, via Deesha Thosar of Fox Sports:

"Going into 2024, we don’t see ourselves as having the same odds as going into 2023. But we will field a competitive team in 2024."

What does this mean for the remaining Mets on a team that wantonly spent owner Steve Cohen's money last offseason with intentions of winning a World Series in 2023? If they're scheduled to become free agents by the end of 2024, they're likely on the block. Per Scherzer, Eppler told him that list includes starting pitcher José Quintana and three-time All-Star slugger Pete Alonso, who would immediately become one of the most coveted trade targets in baseball if made available.

Max Scherzer spoke candidly on his conversation with Mets general manager Billy Eppler. (Joe Camporeale/Reuters)
Max Scherzer spoke candidly on his conversation with Mets general manager Billy Eppler. (Joe Camporeale/Reuters)

For Mets players and fans, this marks a sharp departure from the vision of an offseason that saw the Mets tally a $111 million luxury-tax bill. In December, that bill was higher than the entire payroll of 10 teams.

With such a dramatic change in direction, Scherzer didn't believe it when he heard it from Eppler. He told Rosenthal that he asked to hear the plan straight from Cohen's mouth.

“I’ve got to hear this from Steve," Scherzer said he told Eppler. "This is a change in organizational direction.”

Scherzer said Cohen then told him “exactly the same thing, kind of verbatim.”

This is certainly not what Mets fans sold on a competitive team want to hear. But the realities of a disappointing start that had the team at 50-55 before Tuesday's trade deadline were undeniable. This team was not going to compete for a World Series in 2023.

Scherzer told Rosenthal he was willing to stick it out even under those terms. He was happy in New York. But once Eppler told him the Mets don't plan to compete in 2024, he signed off on his exit papers.