'Let's just play baseball': Scherzer's focus on the field post-negotiations

March 12th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A little after 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, Max Scherzer climbed upon a Clover Park mound and began throwing a bullpen session for the first time as a Met. He was assertive, barking out pitch sequences and locations. He was detail-oriented, instructing catcher Tomás Nido where to position his glove. At one point, Scherzer simulated at-bats with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner standing in as a hitter.

Scherzer had just spent weeks acting as one of the central voices of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive subcommittee, which reviewed negotiation points between the union and the league. He was more than ready to return to the work of actual baseball.

“We can be talking about the pros and cons [of the deal] at a later time,” Scherzer said. “We’ve got to realize that we’ve got baseball back. The fans want to hear us talk about baseball. I’m out here getting ready for the season.”

For Scherzer, that’s a process that began much earlier in the offseason, some weeks after he missed Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with the Dodgers due to an “overcooked” right arm. During labor talks, Scherzer -- by then with the Mets on a record three-year, $130 million free-agent deal -- worked out at the Cressey Sports Performance facility in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., fitting in such exercises as a three-inning simulated game between negotiation sessions. Upon arriving at camp this weekend, Scherzer threw around 45 pitches during his bullpen session, which he believes will line him up to be at or around 100 pitches by Opening Day.

“This is not a normal Spring Training,” Scherzer said of the 2022 proceedings, which have been compressed from around seven weeks to fewer than four. “You’ve got to adapt. You’ve got to know what your schedule is and know where you’re at and how to navigate it, and know where your body’s at. I’ve got all the experience in the world. I’m old. I’m one of the dinosaurs of the game. So I know where I need to be.”

For most Mets, this spring is about adjusting on the fly. Some players, such as Scherzer, Brandon Nimmo and Jordan Yamamoto, who live locally, arrived at the facility almost immediately. The rest will filter in no later than Sunday, the official start of camp.

All the while, general manager Billy Eppler and his team will work on improving the club, with eyes on starting pitching depth, relief help and perhaps another outfielder. Prior to the lockout, the Mets had been one of baseball’s most aggressive teams, signing Scherzer and several others while adding tens of millions to the payroll. That strategy of outspending others under multibillionaire owner Steve Cohen may not be quite as feasible in future seasons, considering that the new CBA includes a fourth tier of the Competitive Balance Tax, which was designed to limit runaway spending.

“There’s a level of frustration with that, no doubt,” said Nimmo, the Mets’ labor rep. “You have a guy come in like Steve and he wants to win as badly as he does, and you’re passionate about that with him, it does frustrate you a little bit. But it is what it is now. Steve’s a smart guy, and I know he’ll figure out a way to do his best with the circumstances that are here.”

Cohen and Eppler are already in the process of doing so, just as Scherzer is well into his preparation for the season. After the players and owners finally struck a deal on Thursday evening, Scherzer said, he celebrated the new agreement, but the revelry was short-lived given how much work lay before him. Opening Day is less than four weeks away, and whether it’s Scherzer or Jacob deGrom on the mound -- the former is completely fine with either outcome -- the Mets are committed to making this season better than the last.

“I just want to get games going,” Scherzer said. “I want the fans to be focusing on the games and the players and out here. I don’t want the fans hanging onto things we were talking about on the deal. It’s over. Let’s just play baseball.”