Strip away the no-trade clause and NL East conflict, and the Mets would have zero excuse for not having Max Scherzer in Flushing days ago.
With no ace for the time being and certainly no guarantees regarding Jacob deGrom’s time line or health in the second half, the Mets need to shoot for the best pitcher available, even if it stings a little extra on the prospect side.
Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and this year’s NL starter in the All-Star Game, clearly is that guy (a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts this season). Prying him from the Nationals, however, is a tall order for the reasons mentioned above.
Though The Washington Post reported Monday that Scherzer wouldn’t veto a trade outright, he could use the clause to choose his next team. There is plenty of competition for him outside the NL East, namely the Dodgers — which obviously would be preferable for their GM, Mike Rizzo.
"I don’t have any problem dealing within the division," Mets acting general manager Zack Scott said on Monday. "Some other teams may feel differently. I have no idea. But I always look at it that we have to look out for what’s best for the club. "
Generally speaking, Scott acknowledged that no-trade provisions can be a "challenge," especially as time gets tight. But the Mets really could use an ace-caliber boost for the rotation, more than we ever anticipated. The rest of the possible acquisitions — Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda — seem more like filler by comparison.
Because as much as the Mets have been drowning in TBAs for the rotation — they had two listed for this five-game series against Atlanta — there should be legit concern about the talent at the top, too.
Even after Monday’s doubleheader split with Atlanta, in which the Mets deployed six relievers for a 1-0 victory in Game 2, Luis Rojas was unsure who will start Tuesday.
"We’ll see who’s available," he said.
Ideally, Carlos Carrasco will make his 2021 debut as soon as Saturday or Sunday, according to Rojas, after missing the first four months with a hamstring tear. Next in line is deGrom, but he’s graduated only to what Rojas described Monday as "light side sessions."
Noah Syndergaard? Listening to Scott, he’s barely on the radar. The acting GM had no problem saying Monday that the Mets are proceeding as if his September return is more theoretical than anything.
All of this uncertainty puts Scott in a weird place as Friday’s trade deadline approaches.
Whenever the Mets get healthy, the rotation figures to be a dominant force, backed by veteran help from wily lefthander Rich Hill, acquired Friday from the Rays.
But the rotation is nowhere near that now, and it’s nearly miraculous that the Mets have stayed atop the NL East for 79 days by patching one together on a daily basis. They’ve used 16 starters and somehow didn’t entirely collapse after deGrom went on the IL after his July 7 start with forearm stiffness.
The rotation has pitched to a 4.04 ERA (seventh in the NL) in the 16 games since deGrom went down, but their rather thin total of 64 2⁄3 innings ranked 12th in the NL.
Marcus Stroman, who allowed two earned runs in five innings in the Mets’ 2-0 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 on Monday, has been crucial, along with Taijuan Walker before his post-All-Star swoon. And where would the Mets be without unheralded rookie savior Tylor Megill, who has a 2.10 ERA in six starts?
Insert deGrom and Carrasco into that mix, and the Mets aren’t treading water anymore. That’s how Scott hopes the next few weeks will play out, but he’s got to deal with the rotation in its current makeup.
"It’s definitely part of the conversation, trying to navigate the week with some uncertainty about the timing of when guys are coming back and what’s their capability, both short and long term," Scott said.
There is no replacement for deGrom. Scherzer is a likely Hall of Famer, but at age 37 (Tuesday), he’s not 2021 Jake. Still, the Mets have to at least consider that deGrom’s assortment of minor injuries could bother him in the second half.
It’s not as if deGrom had anything in particular fixed during this IL stint. The Mets are just crossing their fingers that rest and treatment will do the trick. In the meantime, the best course of action is for Scott to be crafting as many contingency plans as he can.
"I expect we’re doing enough exploring, have enough dialogue, that there’ll be good opportunities for us," he said.
Scherzer would be a great opportunity, if at all possible.