Justin Verlander, the age-defying AL Cy Young winner and two-time World Series champion, is reportedly signing with the New York Mets.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reports it's a two-year, $86.66 million deal with a vesting third-year option. The deal's $43.33 million average annual value matches the all-time record originally set by Max Scherzer's deal with the Mets last offseason. The move pairs Verlander with Scherzer days after Jacob deGrom bolted New York for a five-year deal with the Texas Rangers. Scherzer and Verlander were previously teammates with the Detroit Tigers.
Verlander's deal tops deGrom's annual value but with fewer years. According to the New York Post's Jon Heyman, the deal includes a full no-trade clause. The third-year option is worth $35 million, and vests into a player option if Verlander throws 140 innings in 2024.
The already iconic ace, soon to be 40, returned from Tommy John surgery in 2022 with a 1.75 ERA that earned him his third Cy Young nod and a second championship with the Houston Astros. That campaign was played on a one-year, $25 million deal. Verlander, who also has the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 AL MVP Award on his mantle, would seem to have few accomplishments left to chase.
The Mets, though, have plenty to chase. Team owner Steve Cohen has not beaten around the bush: He wants to spend and win a World Series. The 2022 team, the first under manager Buck Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler, won 101 games but lost the NL East to the Atlanta Braves and crashed out of the postseason in the NL wild-card series.
Verlander and his Astros teammates have said his time away from the field while rehabbing — spent with his wife, the model Kate Upton, and young daughter — changed him for the better as a teammate. But it doesn’t seem to have mellowed his competitive fire. He has repeatedly maintained an interest in chasing 300 wins — a threshold last reached by Randy Johnson in 2009. Verlander is currently at 244, meaning he would likely have to rival Nolan Ryan, who pitched until age 46, to get there.
Perhaps fittingly, he will now pitch for the team with which Ryan started his career.
You could argue that baseball’s two most dominant starters — Verlander and deGrom — hit the market together this winter. Since 2018, when Verlander threw his first full season for the Astros and deGrom leveled up, they have the two best park-adjusted ERA+ marks, and they're first and second in WHIP and batting average allowed. They have thrown roughly the same number of innings in that time — 645 1/3 for deGrom, 618 for Verlander — but Verlander, despite his advanced age, has been more reliably available. He was out for basically two seasons due to Tommy John surgery but has otherwise made his starts like clockwork.
Still, no one can totally outrun the deleterious effects of time. Although his Cy Young Award and shiny ERA don’t show it, Verlander’s strikeout rate dipped considerably in 2022 — no point of shame for a pitcher his age — and batters made more contact on his pitches in the zone than they had since before his Houston reinvention.
He has a long way to fall before he’s no longer a frontline starter, but every season’s trek will get harder from here. In fact, some of that wear and tear might've been evident in the 2022 playoffs, when Verlander labored to a 5.85 ERA despite finally earning his first individual World Series win.
Analyzing the Mets' deal for Justin Verlander
Does it make sense for the Mets? On one hand, this is the most straightforward possible response to losing Jacob deGrom: Replace the two-time Cy Young winner with a three-time Cy Young winner. But it’s not quite that simple. The Mets want to win now, but they also wanted to hedge their health risks by not giving deGrom five years. Getting Verlander — who returned from Tommy John surgery with flying colors in 2022 — for only two or three years is theoretically a smaller risk.
But now, the Mets’ undeniably impressive one-two punch will consist of a 38-year-old who has worn down in recent Octobers (Scherzer) and a 40-year-old (Verlander). That adds some serious pitfall potential to the Mets’ World Series ambitions.
Aside from the health and aging risks, this move is a boon for Buck Showalter. Verlander is coming off 175 innings with a 1.75 ERA. He will be pitching in a more favorable home park in Citi Field.
The Mets' rotation beyond Scherzer and Verlander is not complete. With last year’s No. 3 starter, Chris Bassitt, also a free agent and likely to demand a hefty contract himself, GM Billy Eppler will likely be looking for at least one more starter, possibly multiple.
Does it make sense for Verlander? Assuming the Mets can help him stay on the cutting edge of pitching ideas and tactics, as he always was with the Astros, Verlander couldn’t have picked a much better team to rack up wins in his quest for 300.
Matching or exceeding Scherzer’s average annual value record was probably the goal for Verlander coming off his Cy Young triumph, and he did that. He got fewer years than Scherzer, but that was to be expected entering his age-40 season, and the third-year option is very attainable based on Verlander’s track record.
Like Scherzer, Verlander is in the winning and legacy-building business. It’s not an easy task in a division with the loaded Atlanta Braves, but it’s clear that the Mets will be pouring resources into chasing rings, and that’s a good spot for a future Hall of Famer trying to add to his plaque.