February 8, 2023

Mets and Justin Verlander agree to a two-year, $86 million contract

Mets and Justin Verlander agree to a two-year, $86 million contract

SAN DIEGO — Three days after saying goodbye to Jacob DeGrum, the Mets say hello to Justin Verlander.

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

Together, they will see what they can do. The deal depended on the generosity of team owner Stephen A. Cohen, whose club now employs the most expensive pitchers in baseball history, based on their annual salary. Max Scherzer’s average annual salary of $43.3 million ranks as the highest in the game, while Verlander’s new deal puts him in second place with an average annual salary of $43 million.

Since the deal was not yet official, Mets general manager Billy Eppler did not address Verlander specifically but instead only spoke in generalities, saying he was “working on those plans” to replace DeGrum.

But throughout the game – and even across town – this was an eye-opening move.

“Wonderful. It was really impressive,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Verlander, just at his age and coming back from the last two years. “The Mets are a lot better today after losing Jacob but bringing Verlander to the top with Scherzer.

“Sure, guys that have some ages but guys that still do it at a very high level.”

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

In New York, they will try to do what they couldn’t do in Detroit: win the World Championship.

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

But after Scherzer held the Red Sox to one turn over seven innings, the Tigers’ bullpen began giving up ground and Hall of Fame David Ortiz smashed two grand slams as right fielder Torrey Hunter disappeared over the right field fence in a dramatic stalemate. 6-5 comeback victory. The Tigers never recovered their balance, and although Verlander held the Red Sox to one run over eight innings in Game Three, Boston won that game as well, 1-0, and went on to win the World Series.

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

But they haven’t won one together. And the Mets haven’t won one since 1986.

In 2022, his first full season coming 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 in nine innings.

“Awesome,” Dusty Baker, Verlander’s manager in Houston last season, said of one year with a healthy Verlander. “He’s a man. And I told him when the season started, I’ve never been able to win a Cy Young Award. And so at the end of the year, when he got a Cy Young Award, he said, ‘Now you have one. ‘”

He added, “It’s such a joy for him to manage because I knew what I was getting at every day. He’s probably become more humble since he got hurt and moved out, and you appreciate what you have now. He’s got a little girl, and it gives you a different outlook on life. And I love That’s when I can go through the whole game the day before he throws the ball, and full revolutions the day after he throws it. And then he’ll stop all losing streaks and extend winning streaks.”

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

With DeGrom limited to just 11 games in 2022 due to a strain reaction in his right shoulder and Scherzer making 23 starts, the Mets’ rotation still ranks second in the National League with a 3.61 ERA last season. He also tied Milwaukee for the league lead in strikeouts in nine innings pitched 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 the Texans on Friday.

With Verlander, who turns 40 on Feb. 20, the Mets have opted to offer bigger dollars and a shorter term than the deGrom deal they 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 signed a two-year, $50 million contract with Houston last off-season, but became a free agent after dropping out of the $25 million salary he was due for 2023. He and Astros owner Jim Crane had some talks about Verlander staying in Houston, But instead, for the first time in his career, Verlander will move to the National League

After Scherzer and Verlander, the Mets’ projected 2023 rotation currently includes Carlos Carrasco, Taylor Miguel, and left fielder David Peterson. Right fielders Chris Bassett and Taiwan Walker, who were part of the 2022 Mets rookie, are free agents.

Verlander was also speaking to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to agreeing with the Mets, and shortly before his deal was announced, the Dodgers officially announced that they had signed left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a one-year, $20 million deal for 2023. The Dodgers and Kershaw reached terms of the month In the past, however, they did not formalize the contract because the club wanted to keep an open roster and the ability to maneuver.

But with Verlander agreeing to terms with the Mets, the need for at least one spot on the open roster suddenly wasn’t so necessary in Los Angeles.