The Mets are expected to do some selling before the August 1 trade deadline but they have not approached Justin Verlander about any potential trade talks. That’s notable since the veteran has a full no-trade clause and would need to sign off on any deal before it could be completed.
“I would hope that if there was any chance of that, Billy would come and talk to me and that hasn’t happened,” Verlander said to Deesha Thosar of Fox Sports yesterday, referring to general manager Billy Eppler. “I’m focused on being a Met. I want to win here… Obviously it hasn’t gone according to plan just yet, but I didn’t sign a one-year deal.”
The Mets and owner Steve Cohen ran up the biggest payroll in MLB history for this season but that hasn’t translated into the on-field results they were hoping for. They are currently 47-53, a distant fourth place in the National League East and seven games back in the Wild Card race. It was about a month ago that Cohen addressed the club’s lackluster results and said it would be “silly” to make additions. The club was 8.5 games back of the postseason at that time, and though they are slightly closer now, it still seems like they might have their sights set on 2024.
It’s expected that the club might at least look to move some impending free agents such as Tommy Pham, Carlos Carrasco and David Robertson, or players with 2024 options like Mark Canha and Adam Ottavino. Verlander would be a very different situation. Part of the club’s spending spree in the winter was signing him to a two-year, $86.67MM deal, with a $35MM player option for 2025 that’s conditional on him throwing 140 innings next year.
There are various factors in there that would make a trade complicated. One is that Verlander hasn’t quite been as dominant as last year’s Cy Young campaign. He’s allowing 3.24 earned runs per nine innings this year, a solid number in a vacuum but one that’s almost double his 1.75 mark from a year ago. His strikeout rate has dropped from last year’s 27.8% to 20.9% this year, while his walk rate has gone from 4.4% to 8.2%.
Some of that might be explained by the fact that he started the season on the injured list due to a shoulder strain and didn’t debut until May. He has a much stronger 2.44 ERA since the start of June and a 1.69 in July alone. But the overall season in his age-40 campaign may have given some other clubs hesitation regardless, especially considering his massive salary. Then the no-trade clause adds another wrinkle, as Verlander would have to approve any deal that the Mets could line up. It wouldn’t be unprecedented, as Verlander previously approved a trade from the Tigers to the Astros in 2017, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those stars could align again.
The cash part of the deal might not be a total obstacle, at least judging by the way the Mets have behaved under Cohen. In addition to spending heavily in free agency, the club has shown a willingness to eat money in trades in order to tip the scales on the talent side. They flipped infielder Eduardo Escobar to the Angels last month, eating all of his salary in order to get a pair of prospects. They also took Chris Flexen’s deal off the hands of the Mariners in order to acquire Trevor Gott earlier this month, immediately designating Flexen for assignment.
It’s possible the Mets have had some internal discussions about doing a similar thing with Verlander’s deal, though that would clearly be in a different stratosphere. Escobar is making $9.5MM this year and only had about half of that left to be paid out at the time of his trade, while the Mets took on about $8.5MM in the Gott deal when factoring in luxury tax payments. But Verlander will still be owed about $14MM from this year’s deadline to the end of the season, plus another $43.33MM next year and the $35MM player option looming after that.
It’s entirely possible that Cohen is willing to eat that massive sum in order to obtain some prospects, since he keeps surpassing the expectations of what an owner is willing to spend. But there would be complications for the Mets beyond the money, namely the additional hole it would make in next year’s rotation. Though the club may do some selling this year, there’s nothing to indicate they’re embarking on a years-long rebuild, as they are expected to try to compete again in 2024.
As mentioned, Carrasco is an impending free agent and isn’t slated to be back even if he’s not moved at the deadline. José Quintana’s contract runs through 2024 but he’s drawn some trade interest recently. Max Scherzer also has one year left on his deal but has an opt-out opportunity this offseason.
That leaves Kodai Senga, with four more years on his contract after this one, as the most sure thing in the rotation next year. Scherzer isn’t having a typically dominant season with a 4.20 ERA, so it doesn’t seem like he’s trending towards opting out, but a strong finish to the season could always change things. Regardless, trades of Quintana and/or Verlander would further deplete the group. They have some internal options with David Peterson, Tylor Megill and Joey Lucchesi, but they’d obviously be better with a healthy and effective Verlander.
With the deadline now less than a week away and the complicated nature of any theoretical Verlander deal, it seems like the club doesn’t have any plans on shopping him around. That points to him likely returning to Queens in 2024, just after his 41st birthday, and hoping the Mets fare better in his second year as a Met.