Just days after Jacob deGrom left them for the Texas Rangers, the New York Mets have signed 3x Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to a two-year $86.6 million contract with a third-year vesting option (per Andy Martino and Jon Heyman).
Verlander’s contract is very similar to what the Mets gave Verlander’s Tigers teammate Max Scherzer last offseason and now places them as the two highest-paid starting pitchers annually each at $43.3 million per season.
Before deGrom signed with the Rangers, it was reported that the Mets offered him a three-year contract for $120 million, signaling that they weren’t willing to give him (and to my assumption any starting pitcher) a long-term deal. After deGrom left, the Mets quickly pivoted and now have a new ace in town.
After undergoing his second career Tommy John surgery after just one start in 2020, Verlander was sidelined for the remainder of 2020 and the entirety of 2021. As a free agent last offseason, Verlander opted to sign a one-year $25 million deal with a second-year player option to return to the Astros. At the time, it was a somewhat risky deal as investing in any pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery is a risk, especially a 39-year-old who essentially hadn’t pitched in two years. However, this turned into a bargain for the Astros as Verlander looked like his vintage self parlaying his 175.0 innings and 1.75 ERA into his third career Cy Young.
With the Astros occupying a loaded pitching staff with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, and Hunter Brown, it didn’t make sense for them to outbid the Mets for Verlander.
On the contrary, it made all the sense in the world for the Mets to pay the price for Verlander. In addition to deGrom departing in free agency, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are also free agents, and it’s very much a possibility they’ll be pitching in different uniforms next season too. With an owner of Steve Cohen’s caliber, the Mets had no problem throwing a hefty contract Verlander’s way.
Behind Verlander and Scherzer in the rotation, right now the Mets figure to have Carlos Carrasco, Tylor Megill, and Dave Peterson follow them. With all three having major question marks questions surrounding them, it would make sense for the Mets to explore adding a mid-tier starter in free agency whether that be Jameson Taillon, Nathan Eovaldi, Jose Quintana, or resigning Walker.
Although the Mets will be relying on Verlander to remain successful in at least his age 40 and 41 seasons, there are many reasons to be optimistic Verlander will pitch like himself in a Mets uniform. Despite poor swing-and-miss stuff (37th percentile Whiff% and only a 26.5 CSW%), Verlander’s 23.4 K-BB% was the eighth-best among all qualified starters in 2022. Additionally, when batters did put the ball in play, they didn’t have much success. Verlander was effectively able to limit quality contact, as his 2.66 xERA ranked in the 91st percentile. Although Verlander is susceptible to giving up fly balls, he did a great job of keeping most of them in the infield as his 19.7 IFFB% accounted for nearly half of the total flyballs which led all qualified starters in 2022. Additionally, Citi Field is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks, so that should help limit homers too.
One of Verlander’s best traits has been in his workhorse ability, something the Mets could no longer depend on deGrom for. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020, Verlander threw at least 200 innings in each season from 2016-2019 and his ERA over that time frame was 2.87. After returning from Tommy John, Verlander wasn’t able to keep his 200+ innings streak alive, but he was still able to log a very impactful 175 innings.
However, with 3,163.0 innings under his belt, Tommy John surgery, and now that he’ll be pitching in his 40s, there are reasonable question marks as to how well the future first-ballot hall of famer will pitch in Queens. With Verlander and Scherzer headlining their rotation, the Mets will need both pitchers to prove that age is just a number in order to have a chance at winning their first World Series since 1986.