In the hours after Jacob deGrom’s stunning departure for Texas on Friday, Mets officials spread a message far and wide across the free-agent landscape, according to people familiar with the situation: All that money that Steve Cohen had allocated toward deGrom was now effectively burning a hole in the owner’s pocket. It did not take long for the Mets to find someone to solve Cohen’s problem — and for the franchise to soothe the sting wrought by losing deGrom.
In Justin Verlander — who has agreed to a two-year, $86-million contract with the Mets, major-league sources told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal — the club identified a player unlikely to feel cowed by the prospect of replacing deGrom. Verlander, who will turn 40 in February, turned in one of his finest seasons in 2022. He won his third American League Cy Young award and his second World Series with Houston. He returned to his typical sterling form after missing almost all of the previous two seasons as he recovered from elbow reconstruction.
Under Cohen’s watch, Mets general manager Billy Eppler is unlikely to cease spending this winter. But Eppler has completed two prominent goals thus far, bringing back closer Edwin Diaz on a five-year, $102 million contract and then finding a top-shelf starter to pair with Max Scherzer. That could have been deGrom — until Texas made an overwhelming offer, which included an option that could make the deal worth $222 million. The Mets had also conducted meetings with free-agent starters like Carlos Rodón and Kodai Senga.
But Verlander represents a different class of pitcher than Rodón or Senga, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who has expressed a desire to pitch into his mid-40s. His final campaign of his 30s was one of his best. As his fastball velocity has dimmed ever so slightly, he has continued to confound hitters with the deployment of his curveball and his sliders, a pair of offspeed offerings which evaluators continue to praise. A survey of executives suggested that while deGrom may crest to a higher ceiling than Verlander, a two-year commitment to Verlander carries far less risk than a five-year deal with deGrom.