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Astros reunite with Justin Verlander in blockbuster trade with Mets
Major League Baseball

Astros reunite with Justin Verlander in blockbuster trade with Mets

Updated Aug. 1, 2023 6:06 p.m. ET

Justin Verlander is headed back to Houston and, perhaps, another deep playoff run. The New York Mets appear headed nowhere in 2023 and, amid a fire sale, without clear direction for 2024.

That juxtaposition culminated Tuesday as the Houston Astros and Mets agreed on a deal that returns the future Hall of Famer to the club with whom he won two World Series and spent five-plus years, per multiple outlets. The Astros won the Verlander sweepstakes after the 40-year-old waived his no-trade clause and chose a reunion over several other clubs that made a push for him in the 11th hour of the deadline, sources told FOX Sports.

The blockbuster trade, which reportedly includes minor-league outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford going to New York, comes less than eight months after Verlander left Houston to ink the largest annual deal in MLB history, for a Mets franchise boasting the largest payroll in league history.

With Verlander on the books for $43.3 million this season and next — he also has a $35 million player option in 2025 if he throws 140 innings in 2024 — the Mets will assume a hefty chunk of his remaining contract. According to the New York Post, the club will send $35 million to the Astros for Verlander's 2023 and 2024 seasons, in addition to paying half of his 2025 option if it vests.


Houston, meanwhile, adds another frontline starter to one of the stronger rotations in baseball while sitting firmly in the wild-card race and just a half-game back of first-place Texas in the American League West. The reigning champions have gotten stellar performances from a handful of young arms this year, but were in the market for a veteran they could lean heavily on come October.

Re-enter Verlander, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since late June, posting a 1.49 ERA and 4-1 mark over his last seven outings. That dropped his ERA to 3.15 on the season, which inauspiciously opened with him sidelined for a month after he suffered a muscle strain in his shoulder in spring training. Through his first nine starts of 2023, Verlander was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA as the Mets fell to fourth place in the NL East. It's where New York still resides four months into the season — only the big-league roster is markedly weaker following a slew of trades leading up to Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET deadline.

Now, it’s fair to wonder where the Mets go from here. 

Trading Verlander raises the question of whether they’re punting on the 2024 season. Just to be competitive, they'll again have to buy their rotation, which didn’t work out for them in 2023. Even if the Mets target younger starters via free agency this winter, who will be their ace? Will Kodai Senga ascend into that No. 1 spot? Will José Quintana? That’s the end of the list of reliable arms on the current roster. (On a related note, major-league-ready starting pitching is also the greatest deficiency in the Mets' farm.)

Money is no object for Steve Cohen, and the billionaire owner has long been expected to offer the type of groundbreaking contract it will take to land two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. That objective now seems uncertain in the wake of their recent activity. The Mets will need to add multiple pitchers in the offseason to convince fans, much less Ohtani, that they’re serious about winning next year. 

It was only a week ago that Verlander reiterated his desire to finish this year in New York. He even expressed confidence in the group’s chances to break its World Series drought next year, going as far to say, "I didn’t sign a one-year deal." But the calculus changed, for him and co-ace Max Scherzer, when the Mets traded interim closer David Robertson to the Marlins this past Thursday. Robertson was New York's best expiring asset and perhaps capable of fielding better offers closer to the deadline. Trading him earlier, however, might have signaled to contending teams that the Mets were prepared to sell big. 

EMERGENCY EPISODE: Mets trade Justin Verlander to Astros

Whatever the case, the move disoriented many players in the Mets clubhouse. Scherzer publicly lamented the trade while revealing he would need to have a conversation with the front office. Less than a day later, Scherzer was dealt to the Rangers after agreeing to waive his own no-trade clause and exercise his $43.3 million player option for 2024. That had Verlander reconsidering his own future with the club.

"I’m committed to trying to win a championship here," Verlander said of the Mets on Sunday. "But if the organization decides that that’s not exactly the direction that they think is the best fit to go for next year and go for it again, then yeah, I would be more open to [a trade]."

That ultimately led him back to Houston, where just last fall he won his third Cy Young Award and the World Series. Verlander and the Astros are now better positioned for the latter, not only this season but perhaps the following two.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 

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