New York Mets pitcher Justin Verlander at Citi Field on  July...

New York Mets pitcher Justin Verlander at Citi Field on  July 29, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Mets’ attempt at a superspeed rebuild climaxed Tuesday with the trades of three more major-leaguers, including their last remaining ace, Justin Verlander, to his former team, the Astros. 

They also sent outfielder Tommy Pham to the Diamondbacks and reliever Dominic Leone to the Angels prior to the 6 p.m. deadline to deal players. Headlining the return was a pair of outfielders coming from Houston for Verlander: Drew Gilbert, the Astros’ top prospect and No. 36 overall according to Baseball Prospectus, and Ryan Clifford. 

The recent breaking down of the roster — six players traded, eight prospects acquired altogether — represented a drastic reversal in strategy by owner Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler. After greenlighting the highest payroll in baseball history, an estimated $377 million as of Opening Day, to try to spend the Mets’ way to a World Series, Cohen accepted in recent weeks that this season was a failure, directing Eppler to move players to build a better minor-league pipeline. 

But that approach also creates major questions about and huge holes for the 2024 Mets. Among them: How hard will the front office try to win? A rotation that was supposed to include Verlander and Max Scherzer, for example, now won’t. 

Scherzer, speaking to reporters Tuesday during his Rangers introduction, said that Mets decision-makers told him prior to his trade that 2024 would be a “transition” year rather than a “reload” year, with a return to true contention planned for 2025 or 2026. 

Cohen flew to Kansas City on Tuesday to meet with the Mets, a source said. 

“I don’t want to talk about them publicly,” Eppler said of his conversations with Scherzer. “Going into 2024, we don’t see ourself having the same (World Series) odds as we did in 2022, 2023 but we will field a competitive team.” 


Francisco Lindor, under contract through 2031, said of the Mets’ “repositioning”: “I’m on board . . . I signed up here to be in a winning franchise, and they’re trying to do whatever it takes to build a sustainable, winning franchise.” 

Because Cohen considered the money committed to the traded players already spent, as he said in late June, the Mets in most cases agreed to pay much of the salaries for the sake of a better return from other clubs. 

In the case of Verlander, the Mets will cover more than half of what he is owed, a source said: $35.5 million through the end of next season, plus another $17.5 million if his option vests for 2025 (via him throwing at least 140 innings and finishing the 2024 season healthy). 

The Mets, who have employed Verlander, Scherzer and Jacob deGrom within the past 10 months, now have none of those pitchers. DeGrom — out until next season after Tommy John surgery — left as a free agent for the Rangers in December, Scherzer was traded to the Rangers over the weekend and now Verlander joins them in the AL West. 

Eppler said “a lot” of teams inquired about Verlander and four or five clubs got serious. Tuesday afternoon, it came down to two finalists, both of which offered acceptable packages of prospects. 

The Mets went with Houston in part because of Gilbert, who turns 23 next month and was the Astros’ first-round draft pick in 2022. Already in Double-A, he was hitting .241 with a .342 OBP and .371 slugging percentage while seeing time at all three outfield spots. He’ll join Double-A Binghamton. 

Eppler called him “a relentless player.” 

“I think people are going to really enjoy watching this guy play,” he said. “He plays a little bit with his hair on fire.” 

Clifford, 20, was an 11th-rounder last year and has excelled in his first full season of professional baseball, posting a .271/.356/.547 slash line in High-A. He has been playing rightfield, leftfield and first base. He will be assigned to High-A Brooklyn. 

“He hits the ball incredibly hard,” Eppler said. 

In adding Gilbert and Clifford, the Mets strengthen what has been a weak spot in their farm system. Their top outfield prospect had been defensive whiz Alex Ramirez, who has struggled offensively with Brooklyn. 

From the D-backs, the Mets received Jeremy Rodriguez, a 17-year-old shortstop whom Arizona signed for a $1.25 million bonus in January. From the Angels, the Mets got Jeremiah Jackson, an infielder who was a second-round draft pick in 2018, when Eppler ran that team. 

“We’re trying to restock and reload a farm system,” Eppler said. “You have to go through a little bit of pain to get where we want to go. I feel the organization is making strides toward a better future.” 

“There’s lots of ways to do that. Some of the more traditional ways have been when teams have, for lack of a better word, tanked (lost on purpose by fielding bad teams) and put themselves at the top of the amateur draft order every single year. That can take five, six, seven years to do. We don’t want to endure that. And we don’t think you have to endure long stretches of that in order to build something sustainable.” 

Lindor said: “It’s disappointing that we are in this position right now, seeing teammates go. But I’m looking forward to what the future is going to bring.”

The six players the Mets traded in the past week and the six prospects they received in return:

David Robertson to Marlins for INF Marco Vargas and C Ronald Hernandez

Max Scherzer to Rangers for INF/OF Luisangel Acuna

Mark Canha to Brewers for RHP Justin Jarvis

Justin Verlander to Astros for OF Drew Gilbert and OF Ryan Clifford

Tommy Pham to Diamondbacks for SS Jeremy Rodriguez

Dominic Leone to Angels for INF Jeremiah Jackson


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