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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mets reload rotation in a big way with Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander went 18-4 for the Houston Astros in 2022 with a 1.75 E.R.A.

By Scott Miller

Three days after saying goodbye to Jacob deGrom, the New York Mets are saying hello to Justin Verlander.

The club and Verlander, the unanimous 2022 American League Cy Young winner, agreed Monday to a two-year deal worth $86 million, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Together, they will see what they can do. The deal relied on the largesse of team owner Steven Cohen, whose club now employs the two most expensive pitchers in baseball history, based on yearly paychecks. Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million average annual salary ranks as the game’s highest, while Verlander’s new deal places him second with an average of $43 million a year.

The deal reunites Verlander, 39, a three-time Cy Young winner, with Scherzer, 38, also a three-time Cy Young winner. The two right-handers were teammates in Detroit from 2011 to 2014, when they helped the Tigers to three consecutive American League Championship Series (2011 to 2013) and one World Series (2012, a four-game sweep by San Francisco).

In New York, they will attempt to do what they could not in Detroit: win a World Series.

Dave Dombrowski, then the Tigers’ general manager and currently the Philadelphia Phillies’ president of baseball operations, still views the 2013 season as the one that got away. The Tigers defeated Boston at Fenway Park in Game 1 of that year’s ALCS, then led Game 2 5-0 in the sixth inning with Scherzer on the mound and Verlander scheduled to start Game 3 in Detroit.

But after Scherzer held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings, the Tigers’ bullpen began giving ground and Hall of Famer David Ortiz smashed a two-out grand slam as right fielder Torii Hunter disappeared over the right-field fence in a dramatic 6-5 comeback victory. The Tigers never regained their balance, and though Verlander held the Red Sox to one run over eight innings in Game 3, Boston won that game as well, 1-0, and went on to win the World Series.

Since then, Verlander has helped the Houston Astros win two World Series titles (2017 and 2022) and Scherzer helped lead the Washington Nationals to one (2019).

But they have never won one together. And the Mets have not won one since 1986.

In 2022, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Verlander was 18-4 with an MLB-best 1.75 ERA. He also led the majors in fewest hits allowed per nine innings.

By the time Verlander was winning a World Series game for the first time in his celebrated career last month, the Mets were at home, having followed a 101-win campaign in their first season under manager Buck Showalter with a wild-card round exit at the hands of the San Diego Padres. The 101 wins were the second most in franchise history.

With deGrom limited to just 11 starts in 2022 because of a stress reaction in his right shoulder and Scherzer making 23 starts, the Mets’ rotation still ranked second in the National League with a 3.61 ERA last season. It also tied with Milwaukee to lead the league in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.42.

DeGrom, who won two NL Cy Young awards as a member of the Mets, agreed to a five-year, $185 million deal with Texas on Friday.

With Verlander, who turns 40 on Feb. 20, the Mets chose to offer bigger dollars and a shorter term than the deal deGrom got from the Rangers. Verlander’s deal includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025 if he pitches at least 140 innings in 2024.

Verlander had signed a two-year, $50 million contract with Houston last offseason, but he became a free agent after opting out of the $25 million salary he was owed for 2023. He and Astros owner Jim Crane had some conversations about Verlander staying in Houston but, instead, for the first time in his career, Verlander will move into the NL.

After Scherzer and Verlander, the Mets’ projected 2023 rotation currently includes right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill and left-hander David Peterson. Right-handers Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker, who were part of the Mets’ 2022 rotation, are free agents.

Verlander had also been talking to the Los Angeles Dodgers before agreeing with the Mets, and not long before his deal was reported, the Dodgers made it official that they had signed left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a one-year, $20 million deal for 2023. The Dodgers and Kershaw had come to terms last month but had not formalized a contract because the club wanted to preserve an open roster spot and maneuverability.

But with Verlander agreeing to terms with the Mets, the need for at least one open roster spot suddenly was not so needed in Los Angeles.

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