Just as they did a year ago, the New York Mets have thrown a ton of money at a future Hall of Fame pitcher. And as was the case with Max Scherzer, signing Justin Verlander to a record salary was absolutely the correct move.
A few days earlier, the inevitable finally became reality when Jacob deGrom spurned the Mets – the only organization he had ever known – for a Texas-sized contract with the Rangers. As much as Mets fans wanted to believe otherwise, the truth revealed itself: deGrom didn’t want the Mets or New York anymore.
Yes, the Mets were right for not matching the five-year contract Texas gave deGrom – a gross overpay in length considering he threw virtually the same number of innings as a starter that Edwin Diaz gave them as a closer in 2022.
But there was no way to sugarcoat it: losing deGrom was a gut-punch to the Mets. And whatever implications it had to the roster or their place in the division paled in comparison to what it meant for the franchise as a whole – and why it made the next move perhaps their most important in a very long time.
The Mets needed Verlander as much off the field as they will on it.
In Verlander, the Mets get a player with a resume few can match: three Cy Young awards, two World Series titles, nine All-Star teams, and a Most Valuable Player award. The only things left for him to prove are whether he can become the next (and perhaps last) pitcher to 300 wins, and if he can age as well as Tom Brady.
But in signing Verlander – and particularly when they did it – the Mets also quickly reasserted themselves as a big-market force. Despite the way the 2022 season ended, the franchise has been pointing up in stature and as a destination ever since Steve Cohen became principal owner.
deGrom’s departure threatened that ascension like nothing had prior. The Mets had not only lost their ace – they lost a marquee attraction, the type of homegrown star who comes around once in a generation. He was supposed to spend his entire career with the Mets. He blatantly chose not to.
That’s what made Verlander a must-have, even at over $86 million for two seasons. No other pitcher left on the market had the pedigree he now brings to Queens. Pairing atop the rotation with Scherzer – his old teammate in Detroit – gives the Mets a billing fit for Broadway.
Of course, the Mets wouldn’t have made such a financial commitment to Verlander if there wasn’t still a significant benefit on the field. Frankly, it could be argued that Verlander – fresh off a Cy Young award and World Series title last season – is more of a sure thing right now than deGrom.
And perhaps it was appropriate that just a few short hours after Verlander became a Met, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Trea Turner, arguably the best of a star-studded group of free agent shortstops. It was a jarring reminder that if the Mets are to win a championship, they will need to somehow get through a division that just keeps getting better with the Braves – N.L. East winners five years running – and the reigning National League champion Phillies standing in their way.
The Mets will need more than Justin Verlander to get there. But in the short term, his signing reset the tone around the organization – and judging by the activity that immediately followed, made clear their intentions for 2023.
These Mets are all in. And they should be – no matter the cost.