Well, the answer is Verlander, as he reunites with former Detroit Tiger teammate, Max Scherzer, in Flushing. The two sides agreed to a monstrous two-year, $86 million contract, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post. This is among the biggest deals in franchise history, which is something Steve Cohen has gotten used to doing in his short tenure as the team’s owner.
Furthermore, the $43 million average annual salary is just shy of a new record. It’s a shade below the $43.3 million Scherzer is earning. Verlander’s deal also includes a vesting option for 2025, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
This shows us what the Mets are ultimately most comfortable with right now. They have no problem awarding huge salaries to elite players on a short-term basis. And if Scherzer opts into his 2024 contract, it means New York will have these two on the payroll at these salaries for just two seasons.
There’s not much more to say about Verlander, who is another surefire Hall of Famer once he hangs up his spikes. He’s hit another gear in his late-30s, which coincided with his arrival in Houston. Between 2018 and 2022, he pitched in three full seasons. He never finished with an fWAR below 6.0 or an ERA above 2.60. The right-hander also started at least 28 games in each instance.
This past season is among his best. Verlander won his third Cy Young Award while posting an 18-4 record with a 1.75 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP to go along with a 27.8% strikeout rate and 4.4% walk rate in 175 innings. He pitched another 20 innings in the postseason, struggling to a 5.85 ERA. His 1.35 home runs allowed per nine innings was much higher than his regular-season number (0.62). He did also have an xFIP of 3.74, so the hurler may have run into a bit of tough luck.
But this is where some of the concerns can come into play. We just saw Scherzer have a great year in Flushing before sputtering out in his final two starts. And, 2022 was Verlander’s first year back after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Once Opening Day rolls around next March, New York will have two starters at least 38 years old at the top of its rotation. Scherzer will be 38 and Verlander is turning 40 in February. A similar plan didn’t work out how the Mets hoped this past year. So, it’s understandable to have some worries in the back of your mind.
It’s also been a while since the Mets had two pitchers of this age make a full season’s worth of starts in the same year:
Should the #Mets sign Justin Verlander, they'd have Max Scherzer for his age-38 season & Verlander for his age-40 season.
Only once in team history have the Mets featured two pitchers who were 38 or older & each made 30+ starts:
Tom Glavine (33 GS) & Al Leiter (30 GS) in 2004.
— Mathew Brownstein (@MBrownstein89) December 4, 2022
This doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. But for a team built to win right now, it’s not just the regular season people are thinking about. They want that top-level production to carry over into October, too. Regardless of how good these two can be between Game 1 and Game 162, it’ll be a question that follows them all year long.
Naturally, this huge signing also brings into question exactly what else the Mets will do. They reportedly want to also sign someone in the next tier of the rotation market. But what about Brandon Nimmo? If not him, who’s going to play center field? What about the bullpen?
I made a case over the weekend about the Mets throwing their budget target out the window and making it rain with money. However, part of my idea was based on signing Rodon and getting two pitchers for about the price of one deGrom or Verlander. New York entertaining the thought of signing either of those veteran aces shows they’re willing to go beyond whatever their original budget target was.
Most big-money free-agent acquisitions are risky because of the unknowns. An injury (or two, or three) can derail the best-laid plans. The Mets signing Verlander is risky for all the reasons mentioned above. But if it doesn’t go well, at least New York can get out of the contract in two seasons.
This is still exciting, though, folks. It’s not every year that a team acquires the reigning Cy Young winner. Plus, we can’t ever say New York isn’t going for it. Just days after losing a two-time Cy Young winner and the franchise’s modern-day Tom Seaver, all they did was replace him with a three-time Cy Young winner and likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Phew.