Is Astros owner Jim Crane swooping in again for Justin Verlander?
The Astros traded for Verlander at the old waiver deadline in 2017. Crane personally negotiated a second contract between Verlander and the club before the lockout in 2021. And now Verlander is available again, with the Mets trying to trade him before Tuesday’s deadline at 6 p.m. ET.
Talks are fluid, and subject to change. But multiple sources briefed on the discussions told The Athletic on Monday that the Astros remain involved in the Verlander talks. Some believe a return to Houston is the future Hall of Famer’s preferred outcome, citing, in part, his relationship with Crane.
Astros general manager Dana Brown said on the team’s pregame radio show Sunday that the team was not in the market for a starter unless something came available that made sense. Verlander would fit that description, and sources said the Astros have again shifted their focus toward adding a starter.
Verlander, 40, has a full no-trade clause, enabling him to effectively control the process. The Dodgers also have spoken with the Mets, and their farm system is far superior to the Astros’. But if the Mets intend to trade Verlander, and the only place he will go is Houston, they will have little choice in the matter.
The Mets’ trade of Max Scherzer, in which they sent the Rangers approximately $36 million to secure a top 100 prospect, infielder Luisangel Acuña, provided the template for a deal involving Verlander. The difference is, Verlander is pitching better than Scherzer was, and the Mets will want an even greater return.
If the Astros cannot offer the same caliber of prospect, perhaps they would take on more of Verlander’s remaining contract, which includes the rest of his $43.33 million salary this season, his $43.33 million guarantee next season and a conditional $35 million option for 2025. The option would become guaranteed if Verlander pitches 140 innings in 2024 and finishes the season healthy.
Crane knows how much money the Mets sent the Rangers. He also knows he might be the only game in town. And as the hours to the deadline tick away, the pressure is mounting on the Mets to get a deal in place so they have enough time to secure Verlander’s approval and clear other procedural hurdles.
Crane effectively acted as his own GM for much of the offseason. At other times, such as in his negotiations with Verlander, he has exerted a strong voice in baseball operations. If he wants Verlander and can figure out how to get him, little else will matter.
(Photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)