When the Houston Astros let Justin Verlander walk at the end of 2022, it sort of felt like, for the first time since 2017, there might be a changing of the guard in the Yankees' rivalry with Houston (or, at least, a crack in the armor).
Sure, the Astros had just swept through New York's best efforts like a rake through melted butter. But Verlander represented the sliding doors of the 2017 Aug. deadline, when Houston's Jim Crane was willing to eat money that Hal Steinbrenner wasn't. When Verlander chose the Mets over Houston's non-offers, it seemed possible, if not plausible, that an era could be ending.
Now, four months into the season, Verlander is back in Houston to finish his career, and he'll be pitching through the age of 42 (if his option vests next year) for half-price. The New York Yankees, instead of challenging the Astros, are irredeemable dreck. Great. Nice. Fantastic.
According to Verlander's recent co-ace Max Scherzer, Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler informed him that their plan is for the Mets to contend in 2025 (or possibly 2026). As a portion of that grand plan, they opted to use their financial might to get their payroll finessed by Crane, potentially facilitating a World Series or two in Houston with their largesse.
Could the Astros have won the World Series without Verlander? Sure. Will the Mets ultimately come out ahead long-term with Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford? Possible. But did the Astros really let Verlander walk this offseason, only to welcome him back like a conquering hero from his "big money" deal elsewhere, paying for a gigantic discount in the process?
Verlander signed a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets that also included a vesting option ($35 million for his age-42 season) if he was able to stay healthy and throw 140 innings in 2024. $21.66 million of his 2023 salary has already been paid by the Mets for his services from April through July. Cohen will also be sending Houston a reported $35.5 million the next two seasons, plus $17.5 million if the option vests.
The Astros? They get this generation's most famous bulldog and the momentum-turner for their dynasty for $39 million total if the option vests (Bob Nightengale says $29 million, math says $39M). Come. On.
When is Justin Verlander's Astros debut?
Oh, don't worry. It'll come at Yankee Stadium, where the right-hander just pitched last Tuesday for the Mets (and spun a gem). The Yankees also have an upcoming road series with the Astros. That means they'll probably face Verlander four times in one regular season without him residing in their division. Life is so great, all of the time.
Verlander pitches for the Astros. Verlander's paid by the Mets. Verlander counts against the Astros' payroll for only a fraction of a sliver of an inch. Checkmate, once again, Houston.
Steve Cohen cut his losses when he felt he had to. He has the financial strength to do so. But he sure helped Crane out of a pickle in the process, didn't he?