SAN DIEGO — The Mets have their new co-ace.
They have agreed to sign three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, a source said Monday, a massive if risky move that provides an immediate replacement for Jacob deGrom and seems to have required a huge chunk of the organization’s remaining budget for 2023.
Verlander will pair with Max Scherzer — his former Tigers teammate — to form an old but elite top of the rotation in 2023, two of the best pitchers of their generation teaming up again in the twilight of their careers. Verlander will turn 40 in February and Scherzer will turn 39 next summer.
The contract is for two years and $86.66 million, according to multiple reports. He also reportedly has a $35 million vesting option for 2025 that will become guaranteed if he throws 140 innings in 2024. Verlander’s average annual salary of $43.33 million is tied with Scherzer for the highest in baseball history.
General manager Billy Eppler, speaking at the winter meetings, declined to discuss Verlander because the deal was not yet formalized by the team. But he did say committing more than $85 million on the payroll for next season would require the Mets to “get creative” in rounding out the rest of their roster.
Among the matters that remain on their to-do list: add at least one more starter, build most of a bullpen, figure out centerfield (whether the answer is free agent Brandon Nimmo or someone else).
“You just have to get creative in other areas and be open to doing things in the trade market if they present themselves,” Eppler said. “Try to see where some value can maybe present itself, whether that’s in a position-player space — outfield, infield — relief, other starters to build up some depth. Just have to look for value.”
Three days after deGrom, a homegrown star pitcher, departed for a five-year, $185 million deal with Texas, the Mets agreed to bring in a pitcher who is even more accomplished — and was better last season.
Verlander, who missed essentially two seasons because of a torn ligament in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery, returned in 2022 to have perhaps the best year of his career. He led the majors in ERA (1.75) and WHIP (0.83) on the way to winning the AL Cy Young Award for the World Series champion Astros.
“I told him when the season started, I’ve never managed a Cy Young Award winner,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said Monday afternoon at the winter meetings. “And so at the end of the year, when he got his Cy Young, he said now you’ve got one.
“He’s a pleasure to manage because I knew what I was getting every day. He’s probably gotten a little more humility since he got hurt and was out, and you appreciate what you have now. He has a little [daughter]. That gives you a different outlook on life.
“And I love it when I can go full bullpen the day before he pitches, full bullpen the day after he pitches. And then he would stop all losing streaks and prolong winning streaks.”
For now, the Mets’ rotation consists of Scherzer, Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill, plus other depth options. Among those they’ve been linked to are Kodai Senga, Jameson Taillon and Andrew Heaney.
Signing Verlander to join Scherzer to lead that group does come with risk. The Mets are betting with Verlander — just as they bet with Scherzer when they signed him to a three-year, $130 million contract last offseason — that if his productivity and effectiveness eventually fall off, it won’t happen in the next year or two.
Verlander is 12th on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,198. Scherzer is 13th with 3,193. They jockeyed for position on that ranking — passing greats including Ferguson Jenkins, Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson — throughout last season and now are positioned to continue to do so as teammates.
On the active wins leaderboard, Verlander is first (244) and Scherzer is third (201).
Centerfield is the Mets’ biggest remaining hole. Nimmo is at the winter meetings, meeting in person with interested teams. Eppler said they have maintained “dialogue” with Nimmo but declined to say whether they will see him this week.
Verlander in all likelihood will be the biggest move of the Mets’ offseason, but there are many others to come.
“The way we want to think about it,” Eppler said, “is just being opportunistic.”
With David Lennon