Justin Verlander Returns to the Astros Once More

Justin Verlander
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros have yet again acquired pitcher Justin Verlander and cash on deadline day, this time from the Mets for outfield prospects Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford. Verlander, signed to a two-year, $86.667 million contract before the season, put up a 3.15 ERA and a 3.81 FIP in 16 starts for the Mets. The exact amount of cash being sent along with Verlander is not yet known.

Verlander pitching for a team that wasn’t the Astros just felt kind of odd. While he certainly didn’t spend the bulk of his career in Houston, it’s where he had his personal pitching renaissance, where he clinched his future Hall of Fame membership, and where he got his championship rings. Verlander in blue-and-orange felt like that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Jean-Luc Picard is kind of a sad-sack 60-year-old ensign because he didn’t get in a bar fight as a youngster. Or maybe it’s like when you’re trying to buy a Coke at some rural gas station, but they’re out, and you end up with some bizarre generic cola that may have been sitting there since the Reagan years. Verlander’s opinion may vary, but from at least this fan, it feels like something that went wrong has been set right by Scott Bakula.

The Astros aren’t just trying to satisfy nostalgia; they needed a starting pitcher, so why not one they have a longstanding relationship with? A rash of injuries has left the rotation thinner than they would like heading into the homestretch, and they have a real dogfight this year with the Rangers, who’ve already added Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery; there’s no lapping the division by 15 games. Verlander has shown some clear signs of aging this year, as hitters are less prone to whiffing and are hitting the ball harder, and his control isn’t quite as precise as in the past. But these are normal things for a 40-year-old pitcher, and nearly every pitcher who is still in the league at 40 is going to fall out of it during the ensuing few seasons. Houston isn’t asking Verlander to carry the team, but to be a dependable, healthy arm who keeps the team in games. That he’ll do.

ZiPS Projection – Justin Verlander
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
RoS 2023 3 2 3.59 9 9 52.7 47 21 7 16 53 117 1.7
2024 9 6 3.81 24 24 141.7 122 60 21 33 135 110 2.2
2025 8 6 4.13 22 22 126.3 115 58 20 32 115 101 1.5

ZiPS 2024 Projection Percentiles – Justin Verlander
Percentile ERA+ ERA WAR
95% 160.9 2.59 4.1
90% 146.5 2.85 3.6
80% 131.1 3.18 3.1
70% 123.3 3.39 2.8
60% 115.1 3.63 2.4
50% 109.5 3.81 2.2
40% 103.9 4.02 1.9
30% 96.0 4.35 1.4
20% 89.1 4.69 1.0
10% 82.9 5.04 0.6
5% 76.2 5.48 0.1

The money has not yet been disclosed — check my colleague Jay Jaffe’s upcoming piece for this and more — but my initial guess is “a bunch.” Verlander’s contract is a hefty one, and both Gilbert and Clifford are legitimate prospects; I can’t imagine the Astros would have parted with them if they were also paying full or near-full freight on Verlander. Our prospect team has already shifted in Gilbert as the new No. 1 prospect on the Mets, and while his stats at Double-A Corpus Christi are far from eye-popping, you have to remember that this is his first full professional season. ZiPS sees him peaking as a near two-win outfielder in the .260/.330/.400 range, though the error bars are quite wide when you’re talking someone with so little professional experience. ZiPS is highly interested in Clifford’s power upside (as is the scouting community), but there are a lot of questions about his plate discipline and defensive value to be answered.

Stay tuned for more on the trade!





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

49 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Klein
9 months ago

Not a big Billy Eppler fan but he killed it this trade deadline he got three excellent prospects for declining 38 and 40 year olds . Also got another for a rental reliever.

Jeff in Jerseymember
9 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

Yeah–all of a sudden the Mets have five top-100 prospects and two more really interesting ones in their top 10. Wrote this already but I’m hoping they flip some of the young guys they got for Cease.
They’ll have a lot to do in order to contend next year. My hope is Mauricio gets some OF time & Vientos takes over DH’ing for the rest of 2023. If they prove themselves, one to two holes plugged. Our Acuna becomes coverage in case Jeff McNeil continues to suck. Gilbert may be up next year to replace the carcass of Starling Marte–or maybe Marte and McNeil bounce back. The offense could be in pretty good shape. And now they have prospects to trade for pitching–or the savings from Verlander/Scherzer to go after Nola, Urias, Giolito, etc.

TKDCmember
9 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

If you’re going to praise him, maybe just praise him for getting a job working for a gazzilionaire. It’s not exactly rocket science to pay an assload of money for good players (declining or not), and then eat a ton of that money in trades for prospects. The only reason the Mets aren’t facing certain disaster in the near term is their almost-never-ending-pocketed owner.

Jeff in Jerseymember
9 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

I don’t know: Eppler could protect his ass by trying to convince Cohen to go for it. He could have jumped the gun early and gotten worse prospects.
I don’t love the job he’s done, but many predictions said the Mets couldn’t get much for Verlander and Scherzer, and now they have two top-100 prospects they didn’t have before.

TKDCmember
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff in Jersey

I don’t think anyone predicted that the Mets couldn’t get much for Scherzer or Verlander if they were accompanied by a fleet of Brink’s trucks. Any and all above average players have good trade value if you add enough money to it.

smb11488member
9 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Indeed. Nothing clever or shrewd about what they’re doing. It’s the right way to use their bottomless pit of resources to salvage some value from a lost year, but “killing it” if you’re Billy Eppler would have been assembling a winner with the resources they have. Not doing this. That’s my opinion at least

tomerafan
9 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Eh… I mean, obviously, the Mets are in a position to eat contracts which is something that most owners aren’t willing to do. But it takes stones to negotiate a deal this good no matter how much of the money you’re paying. Dana Brown walked away, and Eppler didn’t flinch. He waited until Brown came back, and worked in other teams to drive up the price. So, yeah, Eppler has some wind at his back, but he still extracted max value. Three top-100 position players for two 40-year old pitchers. Heck of a haul.

sadtrombonemember
9 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

It’s not rocket science but it is really funny.

I’m sure Steve Cohen spending like a lunatic is going to wear thin on me at some point–like, it’s clear that some teams have way less to work with than others, and it’s not good for the game. And this is an extreme example. But this is just so silly, it’s pretty fun to watch.

Shalesh
9 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Yeah, they’re apparently sending $54M to the Astros in this trade (Verlander’s 2025 vests at $35M if he hits 140ip next year). That’s on top of the $35M they sent in the Scherzer trade. They sent a few $M in giving away Escobar too.

So let’s say, Houston will pick up $6M of Verlander this year, $18M next, and $15M in 2025 and he puts up 5.5 wins over that time. I think Gilbert and Clifford might be a little low because he’s better than Giolito (who returned a prospect slightly worse than Gilbert) for the rest of this year and he’s equal to Scherzer next year plus he’s a fine 4th/5th starter in 2025.

I keep hoping Fangraphs will actually do a study of the effectiveness of FA signings since the writers all keep banging Scott Boras’ mantra of “Teams need to spend on FA’s to win!” A look at this past year’s FA signings on the SP side isn’t pretty. Eovaldi and Eflin are big wins. Taijuan Walker a moderate win — Taillon a moderate loss, and Bassitt a push. Rodon and DeGrom look like big losses. Verlander and Scherzer are underperforming their pre-season Zips forecast, so with almost any other owner they would look like moderate losses. No other signees are remarkable.

The Rangers’ signings of Semien and Seager have been a huge success, but teams trying to get a quarter of their team’s WAR through FA generally fail.

fanofthemanmember
9 months ago
Reply to  Shalesh

I feel like it’s partially an issue of “if you aren’t gambling on the ~30% chance that a FA deal is good, you have no plausible ways to improve your team”. It’s not like a bunch of big trades get made most offseasons- it’s normally what, maybe two major impact trades made an offseason? There’s only so much value you can squeeze out of the edges of your roster by optimizing everything a la Rays, and most teams clearly lack the ability to do that anyway.

While I don’t think teams should just be spending in FA no matter what, it does seem like the offseason wraps up with a decent number of teams not having committed to a path to bettering their future prospects. And it especially bums me out that lots of the same teams end up doing that for several years.

Shalesh
9 months ago
Reply to  fanoftheman

That’s fair, I agree that FA’s are useful as guys to solidify teams that are already playoff-bound. If a team needs FA’s to just be “playoff-possible”, they shouldn’t be signing FA’s. I know the Mets just won 101 games, so it made sense for them to spend money wildly to upgrade on already good players.

On the other hand, the poor showings of 2023 FA’s are just their first years. Sure, maybe Rodon and DeGrom return to health, but for most of the others it’s just going to get worse. As said by others in this thread, Steve Cohen just uses Free Agency as a very expensive way to buy top-100 prospects. Paying $89M plus another $45M in salaries already paid to Verlander and Scherzer is a lot of money for 2 FV50’s.

Which brings up the question of why the Rangers didn’t do this deal for Verlander instead of Scherzer? Maybe Verlander vetoed the Rangers?

Last edited 9 months ago by Shalesh
baubo
9 months ago
Reply to  Shalesh

Perhaps the Rangers just really like Scherzer? Because regardless of whether Verlander gets traded or not, the return on Scherzer for what he has done this year felt really high compared to even other pitchers during this deadline