Verlander back to Houston as Mets trade ace

Astros send 2 of their top 4 prospects to NY in exchange for 3-time Cy winner, cash

August 2nd, 2023

HOUSTON -- When Astros general manager Dana Brown saw the amount of money the Mets were willing to send the Rangers in last week’s trade for pitcher Max Scherzer, he immediately contacted owner Jim Crane and floated the idea of bringing back pitcher to the Astros.

Phone calls and text messages were soon exchanged between the front offices of the Mets and Astros, and on Tuesday morning a blockbuster deal was consummated. Verlander, who won two American League Cy Young Awards, two World Series titles and threw his third career no-hitter while wearing an Astros uniform from 2017-22, is returning to Houston -- a jaw-dropping development for the defending World Series champions.

Verlander will meet the Astros on Thursday in New York and will make his next start against the Yankees at some point during the four-game series in the Bronx.

Astros receive: RHP Justin Verlander, cash
Mets receive: OF Drew Gilbert (Astros' No. 1 prospect; No. 68 overall), OF Ryan Clifford (Astros' No. 4 prospect)

“I think when [the Mets] started coming apart, it became clear that he might be on the board. Dana and the team got to quickly working with their GM and the deal came together pretty quick,” Crane said. “I did text him once the deal was done, and I said, ‘Welcome back, we missed you, we’ll see you in New York and I hope you pitch well for us … against the Yankees.’”

The deal came at a high price for the Astros, who sent outfielders Drew Gilbert (Houston's No. 1 prospect; No. 68 in baseball) and Ryan Clifford (Houston's No. 4 prospect) to the Mets. Like they did in the Scherzer deal with the Rangers, the Mets sent a sizable amount of money to the Astros to help pay down his contract.

Verlander is owed about $58 million in 2023-24, of which the Mets will pay $35 million, a source told's Mark Feinsand. If Verlander's $35 million option for 2025 vests, the Mets will pick up $17.5 million, bringing their total to $52.5 million in the trade -- all of which will count against their Competitive Balance Tax.

Brown, a former scout who has a background in player development, had said leading up to the Trade Deadline he didn’t want to make a trade and mortgage the team’s future. He also said he didn’t want to trade from the Major League club.

“It's always difficult to part ways with players because there's a little bit of an unknown of ‘What is this guy gonna become?’” Brown said. “You have to give your best guess as to what this player is. And so you make your assessment based on what you think his future is. And because we thought this was two corner guys -- and not middle-of-the-field players -- we were a little bit more comfortable.”

Both moves the Astros made at the Trade Deadline -- acquiring reliever Kendall Graveman and Verlander -- saw them bring back popular players to the clubhouse.

“Yeah, a big part of winning and success in an organization is creating the culture in the clubhouse,” Brown said. “I know how important that is when a player walks in. It's really good if it's a familiar face, and it's a good player that gels well with other players. And so that was a big deal when we went out and got Graveman and we felt Graveman was a pretty good piece. And then when we talked about Verlander, we knew of course he had been here as well. And he fit right in this rotation.”

The return of Verlander was met with smiles by Astros players, who wanted Houston to make a move after the Rangers acquired a pair of starting pitchers within the last week in Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. Third baseman Alex Bregman and catcher Martín Maldonado were among the players who texted with Verlander early Tuesday.

“Fired up,” Bregman said. “I’m super excited. Obviously, I got to play with him for a long time and he’s just a great leader, great teammate, and competitor. I’m super fired up. I think all the guys in here are very, very excited.”

Maldonado said he knew the trade was done when he got a text from Verlander that read: “Let’s go!” Verlander, 40, waived his no-trade clause to complete the deal.

“He means a lot to this clubhouse,” Maldonado said. “We know what kind of player he is, what kind of pitcher he is, what kind of teammate he is. He’s been here enough to have a feel for this team, feel for the city and to be able to get a Hall of Famer back is always amazing.”

The Astros bolstered a pitching rotation that has been devastated by injuries to Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia, both of whom are out for the season, and José Urquidy, who will return to the rotation later this week after missing three months with shoulder inflammation. The Astros can line up their rotation like this: Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Urquidy and rookies Hunter Brown and J.P. France.

“We think he stabilizes our rotation, and so at the end of the day, we're really fired up,” Brown said. “I had a chance to speak to Justin and he's very excited about coming back.”

Verlander earned his 250th career win -- 61 of which came with the Astros -- in his final start with the Mets on Sunday. He’s 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 16 starts this year, allowing 77 hits, 33 earned runs and 31 walks with 81 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings. In his last seven starts, he has a 1.49 ERA.

Last year, at age 39, Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career. He was the unanimous winner of his third AL Cy Young by going 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts, and then helped the Astros win their second World Series title in six seasons by earning his first career World Series win in Game 5.

Acquired moments before the now-defunct Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline in 2017 after 12 seasons in Detroit, Verlander had four-plus memorable seasons in Houston, including the first two World Series rings of his career. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 ALCS, finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2018 and won it in 2019.

“I’m trying not to come out here smiling too much,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m excited we got J.V. back.”