May 27, 2024

Astros reunite with Justin Verlander in blockbuster trade with Mets

Justin Verlander is headed back to Houston and, perhaps, another deep playoff run. The New York Mets appear headed nowhere in 2023 and, amid a fire sale, without clear direction for 2024.

That juxtaposition culminated Tuesday as the Houston Astros and Mets agreed on a deal that returns the future Hall of Famer to the club with whom he won two World Series and spent five-plus years, per multiple outlets. The Astros won the Verlander sweepstakes after the 40-year-old waived his no-trade clause and chose a reunion over several other clubs that sought him in the 11th hour of the deadline and communicated their interest to the Mets, sources told FOX Sports.

The blockbuster trade, which will require the Mets to assume an undisclosed amount of Verlander’s remaining contract and also reportedly nets them minor-league outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, comes less than eight months after Verlander left Houston to ink the largest annual deal in MLB history, for a New York franchise boasting the largest payroll in league history.  

Verlander is making $43.3 million this season and will earn another $43.3 million in 2024. He’ll also qualify for a $35 million vesting option in 2025 if he throws 140 innings next year. In other words, this trade wasn’t happening without Mets owner Steve Cohen agreeing to pay down some of Verlander’s salary. 

Houston, which currently owns a wild-card spot and sits just a half-game back of first-place Texas in the AL West, adds another frontline starter to one of the stronger rotations in baseball. The reigning champions have gotten stellar performances from a handful of young arms, but were in the market for a veteran they could lean heavily on come October.

Re-enter Verlander, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since late June, posting a 1.49 ERA and 4-1 mark over his last seven outings. That dropped his ERA to 3.15 on the season, which inauspiciously opened with him sidelined for a month after he suffered a muscle strain in his shoulder in spring training. Through his first nine starts of 2023, Verlander was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA as the Mets fell to fourth place in the NL East. It’s where New York still resides four months into the season — only the big-league roster is markedly weaker following a slew of trades leading up to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET deadline.

Now, it’s fair to question where the Mets go from here. 

Trading Verlander doesn’t necessarily mean they’re punting on the 2024 season. But in order to be competitive, they will once again have to buy their rotation for next year, which didn’t work out for them this year. Even if the Mets target younger starters via free agency this winter, who will be their ace? Will Kodai Senga ascend into that No. 1 spot in the rotation? Will José Quintana? That’s the end of the list of reliable arms who are expected to be on the roster next year. 

Money is no object for Cohen, and the Mets owner is likely to be all-in this winter on the groundbreaking contract it will take to try and land Shohei Ohtani. But in the event the two-way superstar doesn’t sign with the Mets, New York must go for an ace-type on the market if they’re still trying to convince their fans they’ll be competitive next year. Upper-tier and major-league-ready starting pitching is the organization’s greatest deficiency.

It was only a week ago that Verlander reiterated his desire to finish the year in New York. He even expressed confidence in the group’s chances to break its World Series drought next year, going as far to say, “I didn’t sign a one-year deal.” But the calculus changed, for him and co-ace Max Scherzer, when the Mets traded interim closer David Robertson to the Marlins this past Thursday. Robertson was New York’s best expiring asset and perhaps capable of fielding better offers closer to the deadline. Trading him earlier, however, might have signaled to contending teams that the Mets were prepared to sell big. 

Whatever the case, the move disoriented many players in the Mets clubhouse. Scherzer publicly lamented the trade while revealing he would need to have a conversation with the front office. Less than a day later, Scherzer was dealt to the Rangers after agreeing to waive his own no-trade clause and exercise his $43.3 million player option for 2024. That had Verlander reconsidering his own future with the club.

“I’m committed to trying to win a championship here,” Verlander said of the Mets on Sunday. “But if the organization decides that that’s not exactly the direction that they think is the best fit to go for next year and go for it again, then yeah, I would be more open to [a trade].”

That ultimately led him back to Houston, where just last fall he won his third Cy Young Award and the World Series. Verlander and the Astros are now better positioned for the latter, not only this season but perhaps the following two.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 

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