How the Rangers went all-in -- and ignited an AL arms race in the process

Max Scherzer is 11-4 this season and now anchors the first-place Rangers' pitching staff. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

ABOUT 100 HOURS before Major League Baseball's trade deadline, the New York Mets and Texas Rangers were barreling toward an agreement on a deal that would shake the baseball world. The Mets were prepared to dismantle the most expensive team in the game's history. New York's focus was now on 2025 and beyond -- and that target date was past the expiration of starting pitcher Max Scherzer's contract.

The Rangers had eyed a moment like this since June, when it was clear their red-hot start and place atop the American League West division was no small-sample mirage. Even after losing their star free agent signing, Jacob deGrom, to Tommy John surgery in early June, they had the highest-scoring offense in the game, financial support from ownership, a deep farm system and a trump card of urgency: 51 years of existence, zero championships.

The Rangers had recognized starting pitching represented a potential weakness and resolved to address it at the deadline. Texas didn't want just any starter, though. The Rangers sought impact arms, ones who could start what they hoped would be their first postseason games since 2016.

For Scherzer to be available was unthinkable at the beginning of the season, and here he was, ready to be had, the confluence of months of planning and weeks of intense scrutiny and days of discussion that helped unleash a deluge of trades consequential to the remainder of the 2023 season.

When the Los Angeles Angels pulled Shohei Ohtani off the trade market on July 26, the prospect of a deadline season chock full of excitement dimmed considerably. Only the failure of the Mets would salvage it, and Scherzer represented the dam breaking. His deal to the Rangers began a mad rush to the deadline and more than three dozen trades across the sport, including another high-profile Met, his rotation mate Justin Verlander, and Jordan Montgomery, the towering left-hander who represented as much as Scherzer the Rangers' willingness to treat 2023 with such gravity.