Mets continue to deal, sending Justin Verlander back to Astros
By Tyler Kepner
When the New York Mets paired Justin Verlander with Max Scherzer last offseason, it seemed almost too perfect. In Scherzer, they had one right-hander with three Cy Young Awards and a $43.3 million annual salary. In Verlander — who had just won his second World Series title with the Houston Astros — they had another.
But the vision of two aces destined for the Hall of Fame leading the Mets deep into October never materialized. With the Mets an afterthought in the pennant race, both pitchers have been tossed overboard from the luxury cruise liner that is sinking in Flushing Bay.
Ahead of the Major League Baseball trading deadline on Tuesday, the Mets dealt Verlander to his former team, the Astros, for outfield prospects Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford. The move followed Saturday’s trade of Scherzer to the Texas Rangers for shortstop prospect Luisangel Acuña.
In between those seismic transactions, Verlander earned his 250th career victory, just six of which came with the Mets. He was 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA for the Mets, who signed him in December for two years and $86.6 million, plus a $35 million vesting option for 2025.
That is an enormous commitment for a pitcher who turned 40 in February, but Steven A. Cohen, the Mets’ aggressive owner, was eager to spend whatever it took in pursuit of the franchise’s first championship since 1986. With the Mets distant in the wild-card race — they reached August with a 50-55 record — Cohen has treated the Scherzer and Verlander deals mostly as sunken costs, including significant cash in the trades to secure better prospects.
The Mets sent $35.5 million to the Rangers to help cover Scherzer’s contract, which will run through next season after he exercised his player option as a condition of the trade. The Mets also included another $35 million to the Astros in the Verlander move, and if Verlander secures the 2025 option — which triggers if he pitches 140 innings in 2024 and finishes the season healthy — the Mets will pay for half of that, too, according to the New York Post.
In effect, then, the Mets are paying more than $70 million to swap two aces who could help them in 2024 for three prospects who could help for many more seasons.
Acuña, 21, is the younger brother of Ronald Acuña Jr., the Atlanta Braves’ superstar right fielder. He is hitting .315 with 42 stolen bases in Class AA this season and is still growing into his power, with seven home runs in 84 games.
Gilbert, 22, was the Astros’ first-round pick in 2022 from the University of Tennessee. He is hitting .274 with an .821 on-base plus slugging percentage between high Class A and Class AA this season. Clifford, 20, has hit .291 with a .919 OPS at two Class A levels.
Before the deals, the Mets had three players on MLB.com’s list of the sport’s top 100 prospects. Now they have five, with Acuña ranked 44th and Gilbert 68th. The others are catcher Kevin Parada (No. 39), shortstop Ronny Mauricio (No. 56) and shortstop Jett Williams (No. 79).
The Mets — who also traded closer David Robertson to the Miami Marlins, outfielder Mark Canha to the Milwaukee Brewers, outfielder Tommy Pham to the Arizona Diamondbacks and reliever Dominic Leone to the Los Angeles Angels — now face the question of who, exactly, will fill out their rotation.
Scherzer and Verlander were not especially dominant, but they were generally very good, combining to go 15-9 with a 3.61 ERA in 35 starts this season. Kodai Senga has been excellent in his first MLB season after coming over from Japan. But José Quintana was injured for the first half of the season and had made only two starts through Monday, and none of the team’s other starters have been close to league average.