February 29, 2024

Justin Verlander trade: Astros acquire ace as Mets continue sell-off, Houston sends back top prospects

The New York Mets, arguably the most disappointing team in Major League Baseball this season, have traded veteran ace Justin Verlander to the Houston Astrose, the teams announced Tuesday. The Mets will receive two minor-league players in return: outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford. While at least a handful of teams were believed to be involved, Verlander will be rejoining the same organization he left last winter as a free agent.

Verlander, 40, is in the first season of a two-year pact worth more than $86 million. His contract includes a conditional player option for 2025 worth another $35 million. It’s too early to know if Verlander will gain that option, since it’s dependent in part on his innings count next season. The Mets are sending $35 million to cover part of Verlander’s salary for 2023 and 2024, then half of the additional $35 million if the option vests for 2025, according to the New York Post. Verlander’s deal also included a full no-trade clause. The Astros, and specifically owner Jim Crane’s familiarity with Verlander may have came in handy during negotiations because of it. 

The three-time Cy Young winner has amassed a 3.15 ERA (131 ERA+) and a 2.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 16 starts this season. Verlander has been brilliant as of late, notching a 1.69 ERA and 16 more strikeouts than walks over the course of six July starts. 

A Verlander trade continues the Mets’ sell-off off recent days. On Saturday, they shipped their other veteran ace, Max Scherzer, along with a considerable amount of money to the Texas Rangers in return for infield prospect Luisangel Acuña. They’ve also traded outfielder Mark Canha to the Brewers and closer David Robertson to the Marlins, and are expected to move another hitter, in outfielder Tommy Pham, before the deadline elapses. Obviously this is not what the Mets had in mind when they paired Verlander and Scherzer at the top of their rotation.

The Astros surrendered two of the top five or so prospects in their system to make this deal happen.

Gilbert, a first-round pick in the 2022 draft and arguably the top prospect in Houston’s system, has batted .241/.342/.371 in 60 Double-A games this season. Scouts were fond of Gilbert’s speed and defense — as well as his all-out playing style — coming out of college, believing that he could develop into either a second-division starter or a fourth outfielder, depending on how his bat plays.

Clifford, an 11th-round pick in 2022 and another of the Astros’ top prospects, has hit .271/.356/.547 in 58 High-A games. Notably, he’s put his well-above-average raw strength to use, homering 16 times in 250 trips to the plate. Clifford doesn’t offer much defensive value, so he’ll need to continue to mash. If he does so, he could become a starter at a corner position, either outfield or first base.

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