When Jacob deGrom departed for Texas, the Mets had to sign an ace-quality pitcher to replace him. With Max Scherzer still on board for at least another year, the Mets didn’t necessarily need a second ace, but if they wanted to keep pace with the Braves atop the division and go all in for the World Series, they needed to make their pitching staff as formidable as possible.
The Mets had two high-level options to replace deGrom on the free agent market: Carlos Rodon or Justin Verlander. With Rodon commanding a longer deal—he’d wind up signing with the Yankees for six years—the Mets opted for the shorter-term commitment to the 40-year-old Verlander instead. Mere days after deGrom bolted for Texas, the Mets brought Verlander out of Texas and inked him to a two-year, $86.7 million contract with a $35.5 million vesting option for a third year.
It was only the first domino in what would wind up being an historic offseason for the Mets, but it was the most important one. The reigning AL Cy Young winner and one of the best pitchers of the last 20 years was coming to Queens.
Unfortunately, Verlander’s Mets career seemed cursed from the start. On Opening Day, just a few hours before first pitch, the Mets announced that Verlander had suffered a right teres major strain while playing catch on the field in Miami. He would wind up missing a little more than a month, but debuted in the first week of May at his old stopping grounds in Detroit.
And the Mets badly needed him. Without Verlander, the Mets starting pitching was in a disastrous state. Scherzer was suspended, Carlos Carrasco and Jose Quintana were on the IL, and David Peterson and Tylor Megill were struggling. The Mets needed stability in their rotation ASAP.
And Verlander was mostly able to provide that in his first few starts. Other than a rough start against Tampa, where he allowed six earned runs, three of his first four starts for the Mets were solid to excellent, including a dominant 8-inning performance against the Guardians on Sunday Night Baseball at Citi Field.
But he still struggled to find the consistency he had in Houston. He was tagged for another six runs against the lowly Rockies at Coors Field in his very next start after the Cleveland start. He would bounce back against the Blue Jays for a six-inning, one-run performance with a season-high eight strikeouts, only to cough up five runs (four earned) in just three innings against the Braves in the most meaningful game he had pitched as a Met to that point, with the Mets struggling to keep pace with Atlanta in the standings.
A solid six-inning start against the Yankees followed, but then he surrendered four runs in seven innings against his old mates in Houston in the start after that. The consistency was just all over the map. All in all, Verlander had run a 4.50 ERA throughout his first nine starts as a Met, which was partially responsible for the disappointing moth of May and horrible June swoon the team endured.
Once July rolled around, though, Verlander finally seemed to regain form. In his final 7 starts for the Mets, the 3-time Cy Young award winner started to look more like himself. He amassed 42.1 innings over those seven outings and pitched to a 1.49 ERA. There were still some strange starts, like his six-walk performance against the Dodgers, but Verlander had finally started pitching like a top of the rotation arm just in time for it to not matter anymore.
Despite a short winning streak at the beginning of July, the Mets were mostly out of the race by the time Verlander actually found his groove. It was just unfortunate timing.
As such, rumors of whether the future Hall-of-Famer would be made available at the trade deadline began to circulate, and only strengthened after the trade of Scherzer to Texas.
On deadline day, Verlander was ultimately traded back to Houston for the Astros two top prospects, Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, ending his Mets career after just 16 starts in the orange and blue. When the Mets inked the 40-year-old back in December, nobody saw the relationship ending quite this quickly, but these are strange times we live in.
Verlander finishes his brief Mets stint with a 3.15 ERA and a 6-5 record in 16 starts. The numbers are respectable, but ultimately, his legacy with the Mets will be that he didn’t have one. The Mets looked like the team that Verlander, one of the best pitchers of this generation, would finish his career with, but now his time here will just be looked at as a brief cigarette break from his Astros tenure. In 30 years, most will probably remember it the way we do Tom Seaver’s Red Sox tenure or Ken Griffey Jr. on the White Sox now—with a firm “oh, huh, I forgot he played there.”
Verlander accomplished exactly nothing here, and the Mets accomplished nothing with him. The Mets will be nothing more than a footnote on his Hall of Fame plaque in the end. It was a good and necessary signing when it was made, but the lasting impact of Justin Verlander’s fleeting Mets career will be the contributions of Gilbert and Clifford to the franchise, and nothing to do with Verlander himself.