Mets pitcher Justin Verlander during a spring training workout on Tuesday...

Mets pitcher Justin Verlander during a spring training workout on Tuesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Mets didn’t spend much time mourning the defection of Jacob deGrom to the Rangers this winter, as owner Steve Cohen simply slid over another giant pile of cash to Justin Verlander less than four days later.

Taking that replacement theme a step further, when the clubhouse doors at Clover Park swung open to the media Wednesday, Verlander was housed in deGrom’s old locker, a few spaces down from the Mets’ current co-ace Max Scherzer. It was there that Verlander entertained reporters with details of his surprise 40th birthday party, thrown by wife Kate Upton in Miami — the actual date isn’t until Monday — and jokingly spoke of being baseball’s Tom Brady on the longevity front.

The whole twin aces thing didn’t work out too well for the Mets last season. They lured Scherzer to Flushing on a record three-year, $130 million contract to pair him with deGrom, and the two pitched together in the same rotation for 65 days and roughly a dozen starts apiece, including the playoffs. DeGrom didn’t even make it out of spring training due to a stress reaction in his right shoulder that cost him four months and Scherzer was repeatedly derailed by an oblique injury.

Mets ace Max Scherzer talks about pitching with another ace in the rotation in Justin Verlander on Wednesday at spring training.

But none of that scared Cohen away from trying to run it back this year, and now the Mets’ dice roll involves two pitchers with six Cy Young trophies and a combined age of 78 at the front of the rotation. As of Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after Verlander talked about pitching to 45 or beyond, the Mets had to feel pretty good about that gamble, with the news out of Rangers camp that deGrom was pushed back from a scheduled bullpen session because of tightness in his left side.

The revelation that deGrom is dealing with some kind of physical issue was akin to reporting that water is wet, and it’s not like the Rangers weren’t privy to his lengthy medical history before forking over $185 million over five years (!). Verlander only cost $86.6 million over two, and he’s coming off a Cy Young season capped by a World Series parade with the Astros. Plus, Verlander just got a new elbow with his 2020 Tommy John surgery, so he’s feeling like there’s plenty of mileage left.

“I think I’m constantly adapting, always seeking out new information,” Verlander said Wednesday. “With the end goal of that information being I can carry my career as long as I possibly can and stay at my peak for as long as I possibly can. You’ve seen some guys in our sport and other sports that have been able to carry it well into their 40s and I don’t see why not. So with that in mind, let’s not sell myself short. It doesn’t get easier. But I think the old adage, ‘work smarter, not harder,' is something that pops in my mind.”

Of course, there’s a reason why forty-something elite athletes are such a novelty. Father Time remains undefeated, even making the eternally youthful Brady a notch on his belt earlier this month. Keeping Verlander and Scherzer fully functional for the next eight months is going to require constant vigilance, and perhaps some radical measures, like skipping starts or deploying a six-man rotation, which Scherzer grumbled at when a reporter suggested the concept Wednesday.

“That’s tough to truly make a comment on because, at the end of the day, I’m gonna be a team guy,” Scherzer said. “If it’s best for the team, obviously I’m going to take the extra day. But if we’re just talking in a vacuum, with no other variables at play, I want to pitch every fifth game. I enjoy going out there trying to make 33, 34 starts and throw 200-plus innings.”

Scherzer hasn’t hit those numbers since 2018. Verlander last reached them in 2019, when he earned his second Cy Young, and these guys aren’t getting any younger. The advantage they do have, however, is experience. And the days of the rotation rivalry the two had in Detroit — when the ultracompetitive duo “butted heads” and “were not the best of buddies” according to then Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski — that now seems to have mellowed into something more like mutual admiration on the Mets.

“It’s going to be real fun to start comparing notes, because the game has evolved, too, since we played together,” Scherzer said. “How swing paths change, and how we both see the game now. It’s going to be real fascinating to see how his mind attacks different guys ... We’re at different stages of our careers [from Detroit] and more important, we’re at a different state of our lives, so things will definitely be different now. I don’t really see any issues whatsoever.”

From the Mets’ perspective, the key to that will be sharing the ace responsibilities as often as possible, something Scherzer and deGrom were unable to do for an extended period during their lone season together. The dream scenario turned out to be a nightmare in deGrom’s walk year, but with Verlander’s arrival, the Mets now get a do-over without the drama of Jake’s pending free agency. Verlander’s business is winning games, and when it comes to him and Scherzer, there’s an emphasis on wiser rather than older.

“I think we could both look back at our time in Detroit together,” Verlander said. “We had such an incredible team and weren’t able to achieve the ultimate goal, so hopefully reunited here we can achieve that.”

That’s the Mets’ plan. Again.


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