Hedge fund titan Steve Cohen opened his checkbook over the past week in order to restock the Mets roster. He landed his biggest fish Monday in Max Scherzer, who agreed to a historic contract worth roughly $130 million over three years, smashing the previous record for average annual salary of $36 million by Gerrit Cole. But Mad Max will boost his pay further, based on his previous history-making deal.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner signed an agreement with the Washington Nationals as a free agent in January 2015 worth $210 million over seven years. It was the second-largest pact ever for a pitcher at the time and included a record-setting deferral of $105 million.
His Mets deal—negotiated by uber-agent Scott Boras—is not expected to have any deferred salary, meaning Scherzer will earn nearly $170 million over the next three years, including $39 million in deferred compensation, according to one source. The deferred money was expected to be $45 million but was reduced based on the shortened 2020 season.
The $170 million windfall is more than any athlete on a U.S.-based team has ever pocketed over a three-year period from salaries and bonuses.
Marquee NFL quarterbacks get massive signing bonuses, led by Dak Prescott ($66 million) and Russell Wilson ($65 million). But their pay inevitably dips following the bonus payout. The Cowboys’ Prescott is the NFL’s current leader in three-year cash, at $126 million.
NBA salaries have exploded, as the cap soared from increased TV revenue. Warriors guard Steph Curry has the biggest deal—based on average annual value—at $53.8 million per year. That four-year contract, which kicks off next season, will pay $156 million during the first three years. Curry’s off-court game is a bit better, though, as megadeals with the likes of Under Armour will push Curry’s total annual earnings to nearly $100 million, while Scherzer makes low six-figures off the field from endorsements.
Scherzer’s 2014 contract was a win-win for the pitcher and his team. The Nats were able to defer the salary and build a deep roster that won the franchise’s first World Series in 2019. Scherzer was a two-time All-Star at the time and winner of the 2013 Cy Young Award, but he was far from the first-ballot Hall of Famer he is now. He outperformed the contract, winning two more Cy Youngs and posting six finishes inside the top five of National League voting. The deferral ultimately enabled Boras to boost the total contract value and set Scherzer up with a $15 million-a-year annuity, starting at age 37 and paid every July 1 from 2022 through 2028.
Neither pitcher nor agent could have expected Scherzer to still be performing at such a high level at an age when most pitchers are just hanging on. Previously, the oldest MLB player to sign a $100 million contract was a 33-year-old Kevin Brown, who signed baseball’s first nine-figure deal with the Dodgers in 1998.
The one thing that could derail Scherzer’s record three-year haul, however, is the looming lockout expected to hit MLB when the clocks strike midnight Wednesday. Scherzer will have some say on how long the lockout lasts; he is one of eight players on the MLB Players Association executive subcommittee that is part of the negotiations.
Scherzer says he wants younger players to get their fair share in a new labor agreement. But it is one of the sport’s oldest stars that just got the biggest slice of the pie.