Justin Verlander $86M Contract Shows Mets Are All-In on 2023 Without Risking Future

Joel ReuterDecember 5, 2022

Justin Verlander
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Pitchers like Jacob deGrom come around once in a generation, but it only took the New York Mets a few days to find a suitable replacement.

On Monday, the first big story from MLB's winter meetings broke when Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported American League Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has agreed to terms on a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets with a vesting option for a third year.

That's right in line with the three-year, $130 million deal Max Scherzer signed with New York last offseason in terms of average annual value (AAV). The future Hall of Famers are slated to share the starting rotation for the next two years as the Mets chase a World Series title.

Shelling out roughly $86 million for two players is uncharted territory when you consider Scherzer's deal last winter set an AAV record. To put that combined figure into perspective, it's more than the Miami Marlins ($83.0M), Cleveland Guardians ($66.5M), Pittsburgh Pirates ($66.2M), Oakland Athletics ($48.4M) and Baltimore Orioles ($44.9M) spent on their entire rosters in 2022, according to Spotrac.

It's risky to put so much on the shoulders of two players—even players as accomplished as Scherzer and Verlander—but it was the right move for the Mets, and it puts them in a great position for the remainder of the offseason and in the years to come.

Father Time Has Been Kind

Max Scherzer
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The easy argument against what the Mets have done is that they are pinning their title hopes on a 39-year-old (Verlander) and a 38-year-old (Scherzer) who both have more than 2,500 innings on their arms and could fall off dramatically in the coming years.

That said, these two have proved to be exceptions to the rule of late-30s decline.

After pitching a grand total of six innings in 2020 and 2021 because of Tommy John surgery, Verlander returned to go 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 175 innings in 2022, winning his third AL Cy Young Award unanimously to close out an epic run in Houston.

Brian McTaggart @brianmctaggart

What a run by Justin Verlander in Houston:<br><br>61-19, 2.26 ERA, 0.83 WHIP in 102 starts<br>2 Cy Young Awards<br>1 Cy Young runner-up<br>300-strikeout season<br>ALCS MVP<br>3rd no-hitter<br>3,000th strikeout<br>2 World Series titles

Meanwhile, Scherzer missed time in 2022 with an oblique strain, but he was every bit the elite starter we've grown accustomed to, finishing 11-5 with a 2.29 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 145.1 innings.

Both players have terrific stuff, but their understanding of how to keep hitters off-balance and their ability to limit walks have truly helped them succeed beyond their prime years. They have the chance to put the finishing touches on their respective legacies together.

Paul Hembekides @PaulHembo

Career strikeouts: <br><br>12. Justin Verlander (3,198)<br>13. Max Scherzer (3,193)<br><br>History, every night.

For as much as their ages might seem like an issue, the list of pitchers who have enjoyed significant success at age 38 or older is longer than you might think.

Randy Johnson won his fourth straight Cy Young and had a 10.7-WAR season at 38. Roger Clemens won his sixth Cy Young at 38 years old and his seventh Cy Young three years after that, although a PED cloud hangs over his accomplishments. Nolan Ryan won strikeout titles at ages 40, 41, 42 and 43.

Those guys are the exception rather than the rule, but isn't that also what Verlander and Scherzer have been throughout their careers given their sustained success? Count the ZiPS projection system among those who are bullish on Verlander's next two years.

Given how volatile pitching performance can be, it might be safer to bank on a pair of late-30s superstars to continue to produce at a high level than to roll the dice on younger options with a shorter track record of success.

So why not just re-sign Jacob deGrom? We have some thoughts on that...

Letting Jacob deGrom Walk Was the Right Move

Jacob deGrom
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It's never easy to let a franchise icon walk, but the reality is that Jacob deGrom was the riskiest player on this year's free-agent market.

His injury history includes terms like "forearm strain" and "stress reaction in shoulder" that would make any medical staff cringe, and he has made just 26 starts and pitched 156.1 innings over the past two seasons.

He's several years younger than Verlander, but at age 34, he would similarly be classified as "old" relative to the average player's prime and career length.

For a team like the Mets with the ability to spend and the desire to win now, spending $6 million more in AAV on a two-year deal with Verlander made far more sense than locking in a five-year, $185 million commitment, which deGrom received from the Texas Rangers.

The Mets have Scherzer and Verlander lined up to hit free agency at the same time following the 2024 season, and they've gone all-in on this veteran core for the next two years without mortgaging their future flexibility.

With James McCann, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar also set to come off the books after the 2024 campaign, the Mets can look to backload any additional long-term deals they sign this winter, balancing their payroll situation without flying too far past the luxury-tax threshold in the next two years.

That's good, because as exciting as a Verlander-Scherzer one-two punch sounds, the Mets have more work to do before Opening Day.

What's Next for the Mets?

Chris Bassitt
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Even with Scherzer coming back and Verlander in the fold, the starting rotation is not a finished product.

Here's the projected starting staff, courtesy of Roster Resource:

  • RHP Justin Verlander
  • RHP Max Scherzer
  • RHP Carlos Carrasco
  • RHP Tylor Megill
  • LHP David Peterson

Megill started strong last season but missed three months with a shoulder strain and finished with a 5.13 ERA in 47.1 innings.

Peterson has a 4.26 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 222 innings over the past three seasons. While he has shown flashes of being a solid starting option, he probably fits best as a swingman or rotational depth on a team with World Series aspirations.

The Verlander signing likely takes them out of the market for Carlos Rodón, but a number of second-tier arms could be a fit, including a potential reunion with Chris Bassitt.

The 33-year-old reportedly seeks a deal longer than three years, though the Mets' early interest in such a contract was described as unenthusiastic.

Mike Puma @NYPost_Mets

Chris Bassitt has been seeking a contract of longer than three years. It doesn’t sound like the Mets are enthusiastic about going four or five years on Bassitt, who turns 34 in February.

The late bloomer is likely trying to secure as much guaranteed money as possible this winter, so he could be the perfect target for a backloaded deal. Maybe something like a four-year, $70 million contract that pays him $15 million in 2023 and 2024, and $20 million in 2025 and 2026, would make sense for all involved.

A similar offer might also make sense for Jameson Taillon, Nathan Eovaldi or Japanese right-hander Koudai Senga.

Beyond the starting rotation, the Mets are also in the market for an outfielder.

Familiar face Brandon Nimmo might take a nine-figure payday to bring back. While that's not out of the question and could also work better with some backloading, the Mets have been linked to Andrew Benintendi as well. One of the youngest players on the market, Benintendi could prefer a short-term deal with an opt-out, giving him a chance to revisit the market in a year or two.

Short-term deals with significant AAVs that don't clog the books could be the name of the game for the Mets. That approach, along with some strategic backloading, could allow them to make more major moves before the winter is over.

This is how you aggressively build a World Series contender without digging the organization into a hole that will take years to recover from once the window of contention with the current core closes.

For now, circle the June 19-21 series between the Mets and Astros in Houston as one of the must-see matchups of the 2023 season.