MLB Trade Grades: Justin Verlander, Astros owner Jim Crane reunite in Houston


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Astros get: RHP Justin Verlander, an as-yet uncertain (but probably significant) amount of cash

Mets get: OF Drew Gilbert, OF Ryan Clifford

Andy McCullough: The departure of Justin Verlander from the Houston Astros never made that much sense. Verlander loved his time in Houston, by all accounts. He won two World Series there. He led one of the best pitching staffs in the sport. And the team, fresh off a championship in 2022 and an American League pennant in 2021, certainly had the money to afford him. But when owner Jim Crane opted to let Verlander depart on a two-year, $86.6 million deal to the Mets, it looked like an era had ended.

Or so it seemed.

Credit to Crane for rectifying his offseason whiff. Houston needs Verlander more than ever, after losing starters Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., and José Urquidy to injury. With Verlander back atop the rotation, the Astros look formidable for an October run — and the team still has time to catch up to the Rangers in the American League West. After a crummy opening to the season, Verlander has looked like himself, albeit somewhat diminished at 40, across his last seven starts, with a 1.49 ERA across 42 1/3 innings.

Might as well circle the calendars for Sept. 4, when the Rangers host the Astros. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Verlander face off against his former teammate Max Scherzer, the newest member of Texas’ rotation.

Meanwhile, the Mets are punting on 2024. Will they move Pete Alonso today, or wait until the winter? Gilbert was a first-round pick in 2022 who might be able to stick in center field. It’s actually a pretty good return. It’s just a bummer for Mets fans — for the next year or so, at least.

Astros: A
Mets: B

Brittany Ghiroli: The Astros were always believed to be Verlander’s top — some say only — choice to waive his no-trade clause and leave the New York Mets, who by all accounts are amid a major selloff. While the Orioles had obvious interest and the prospect capital, the Padres inquired but were out of the running by late Monday night, and the Dodgers thought they could change his mind, Verlander would ultimately only OK a return to the place where he won two rings. This a huge win for Houston and a significant shift in the AL West race, as Astros owner Jim Crane stepped in and secured Verlander for a second time. For the Mets, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do in entertaining other suitors. Verlander controlled this process, a right he negotiated and earned. Both he and Max Scherzer joined the Mets hoping to bring home a title and left under their own volition to pursue that chance elsewhere.

Houston: A
Mets: C+

Stephen J. Nesbitt: It’s been 185 years since the English writer Charles Dickens wrote, in the third chapter of “Nicholas Nickleby,” a line that rings especially true today within the hallways of the executive offices at Minute Maid Park in Houston: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”

Though he never once experienced the triumphs and turbulence of a major-league trading deadline, Dickens knew ball. The pain Astros owner Jim Crane felt watching Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young, walk into Steve Cohen’s arms this offseason must have been heartrending. So just imagine Crane’s joy as Verlander returns. Sure, Gilbert is a young man with a bright future in baseball, but bringing back Verlander and pocketing the many millions Cohen must have forked over to close the deal was more than enough to satisfy the Astros brass. Verlander appears to have plenty in the tank, and the Astros will be thrilled to have him again starting every fifth day and in the postseason.

The Mets, meanwhile, are putting Cohen’s money to work for them, buying prospects left and right. The Astros did not have much in the way of prospects to offer, but Gilbert and Clifford ranked first and fourth, respectively, in their system. Gilbert, the 28th pick in 2022, played just 11 games last season before injuring his shoulder, but moved up to High A to start the season anyway and destroyed pitching there, slashing .361/.421/.686. His results since climbing to Double A have not nearly been as impressive, with a .713 OPS in 60 games. Clifford, an 11th-rounder in 2022, is a 20-year-old who can play first base or either corner outfield spot. He has a .919 OPS across two levels of A Ball so far this season. Nice prospects. Could both be major-league regulars in a few years’ time.

But when you have in one hand Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and untold millions of dollars, and in the other three prospects, it boggles the mind to choose the option that involves parting with two future Hall of Famers and all of that coin. I get it. But I don’t like that it makes some business sense in baseball.

Astros: A
Mets: B-

(Photo of Verlander in 2022: Troy Taormina / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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