Mets To Sign Justin Verlander

The Mets are in agreement on a contract with Justin Verlander, reports Andy Martino of SNY. Former ball player Carlos Baerga reported last night on Instagram that the Mets and Verlander had a two-year, $86.8MM deal. Baerga reported that there was a mutual option for 2025 but Martino says it’s a vesting option. Robert Murray of FanSided reports that the final tally is actually $86.6MM. Jon Heyman of The New York Post reports Verlander will make $43MM in each season with the option valued at $35MM. Verlander will also have a full no-trade clause. Heyman adds that the 2025 option will be a player option if Verlander pitches 140 innings in 2024.

Verlander was one of the most unique free agents in modern baseball, given his unusual circumstances. He made just one start in 2020 and missed all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery, after which he reached free agency. At that point, he had essentially missed two full years and was going into his age-39 season. However, he won the American League Cy Young award when he was last healthy in 2019.

Despite the long layoff, Verlander had plenty of interest based on his previous track record and a spring showcase that demonstrated his health to interested teams. He eventually re-signed with the Astros on a one-year, $25MM deal with a matching $25MM player option for 2023 on the condition that Verlander reached 130 innings pitched this year. Not only did Verlander breeze past that marker, he added yet another excellent campaign to his lengthy track record. He tossed 175 innings, making a brief trip to the injured list for a calf injury. He posted a miniscule 1.75 ERA with a 27.8% strikeout rate, 4.4% walk rate and 37.9% ground ball rate, earning his third career Cy Young award.

This created a free agency that was essentially unprecedented. It’s extremely rare for pitchers to pitch so well this late into their careers, especially after such a lengthy layoff. With Verlander about to turn 40 in March, he was never going to get an incredibly lengthy deal. However, he has previously expressed a desire to pitch into his mid-4os, meaning he could conceivably seek to get a multi-year deal of some kind. The closest reasonable comparison was Max Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130MM deal to join the Mets a year ago, when he was going into his age-37 season. That came with a $43.33MM annual average value that smashed the previous record of $36MM, held by Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole.

Verlander is a few years older now than Scherzer was then, but the AAV was still seemingly a rough signpost for Verlander to aim for. Astros’ owner Jim Crane intimated that Verlander was using the Scherzer deal as a target in free agency, which was apparently beyond their comfort zone. For the Mets, their rotation was significantly impacted by free agency, as Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker all his the open market. deGrom is already off the board, having signed with the Rangers in recent days. But they have quickly pivoted and replaced him with Verlander, who will now replace deGrom as the co-ace next to Scherzer. With Verlander’s deal seemingly $86.6MM over two years, he will effectively match Scherzer at an AAV of $43.3MM, though it’s possible there are more specifics to be reported that change the numbers after the decimal. This is a reunion for Verlander and Scherzer were teammates in Detroit from 2010 to 2014.

For the Astros, they have been incredibly aggressive this winter but it seems their priorities have been elsewhere. Even without Verlander, the rotation is in good shape with Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy and Hunter Brown all present as solid options. Since they apparently didn’t see eye-to-eye with Verlander, they have since dedicated their resources to re-signing reliever Rafael Montero and then signing first baseman Jose Abreu.

The Mets have become a financial powerhouse in recent years, with new owner Steve Cohen willing to spend at or near the top of the market in order to bolster the club’s roster. Last year, they ran out an Opening Day payroll of $264MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They are now set to go into 2023 with Verlander and Scherzer combining for over $86MM alone, well beyond the entire payrolls of some entire teams. Roster Resource now estimates the Mets’ payroll for next year to be $277MM, though perhaps more importantly their luxury tax estimate is $289MM. The lowest threshold of the competitive balance tax in 2023 will be $233MM, with three further tiers at $253MM, $273MM and $293MM, with the Mets just barely under the top line. Since the Mets also paid the CBT in 2022, they will be a second-time payor in 2023 and subject to increasing penalties. All spending over the lowest threshold is subject to a 30% tax, with extra surcharges at each subsequent tier: 12%, 45% and 60%. In other words, any spending over the $293MM tier will be subject to a 90% tax. Since they are still looking to upgrade their pitching staff and outfield, it seems almost certain that they will indeed go beyond that line.

All of that spending helped the Mets field a strong team in 2022, winning 101 games. Though that was the second-highest total in franchise history, they still were nudged into Wild Card status by the Braves. The Mets ended up with a bitter first-round defeat, losing their best-of-three series to the Padres. They are now seemingly planning to spend aggressively yet again and hope for better results in 2023.

Verlander was one of three pitchers considered to be the aces of this winter’s free agency, alongside deGrom and Carlos Rodon. The Mets lost deGrom to the Rangers but have now replaced him with Verlander. For teams still looking to add to the front of their rotation, they will now have to pivot for Rodon, who is reportedly looking for a six-year deal.

More to come.

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