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Justin Verlander did not sound happy on Sunday, just as Max Scherzer did not sound happy two days before. The Mets traded Scherzer to the Rangers faster than you can say “Billy Eppler.” They could do the same with Verlander, following the Scherzer template or taking a different approach.
The Dodgers, because of the depth of their farm system, are a more desirable trading partner for the Mets than Verlander’s previous club, the Astros. But like Scherzer, Verlander possesses a full no-trade clause and can effectively pick his next team. He rejected a reported two-year, $80 million offer from the Dodgers last offseason in favor of a two-year, $86.6 million deal with the Mets.
The first question is whether Verlander wants out as badly as Scherzer apparently did. Most top-of-the-rotation starters share certain traits. Healthy egos. Intense competitive streaks. Ambitions to pitch on the biggest stages. But that doesn’t mean the personalities and family considerations of those pitchers are the same
Verlander and his wife, the model and actress Kate Upton, are the parents of a 4-year-old daughter, Genevieve. How important they consider staying in New York, as opposed to relocating when he has at least one more year left on his contract, is not known.
Just eight months ago, Verlander signed with the Mets because he was intrigued by the idea of pitching in the city and joining Steve Cohen’s $350 million machine. That machine is slowing down, and Verlander told reporters Sunday he would be “more open” to getting traded if he senses the team’s commitment to winning next season is waning.
Justin Verlander acknowledged that the Max Scherzer trade changes things for him and the Mets. “When you see that happen, you can’t help but think what it says for next year.”
— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) July 30, 2023
The buzz around the Dodgers and Verlander among scouts is growing louder. The match seems obvious, even though the Dodgers likely would be uncomfortable with Verlander’s conditional option that guarantees him $35 million at age 42 in 2025 if he pitches 140 innings next season. But Cohen paid $36 million to extract a top 100 prospect out of the Rangers for Scherzer. Surely he can figure out a way out for Verlander, too. If Verlander is willing.
• After the Scherzer trade became official, Mets general manager Billy Eppler told reporters, “I do want to be clear that it’s not a rebuild. It’s not a fire sale. It’s not a liquidation. This is just a repurposing of (owner) Steve (Cohen’s) investment in the club, and kind of shifting that investment from the team into the organization.”
Well, Verlander might have his own interpretation of what “repurposing” means. And unless the Mets become more flexible in their approach to starting pitching in free agency, it’s difficult to imagine them making a quick turnaround.
With the exception of Japanese righty Kodai Senga, whom the Mets signed last winter to a five-year, $75 million deal, the team has preferred short-term deals for starting pitchers with high average annual values. Scherzer, Verlander and José Quintana all fit that profile. But the approach didn’t work.
Even beyond Shohei Ohtani, the top free-agent starters this offseason — Julio Urías, Blake Snell and Aaron Nola, and likely Eduardo Rodríguez and Marcus Stroman as well — all figure to command long-term deals. Perhaps Eppler will trade for a controllable starter. Perhaps he will dip back into the Japanese market for righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But regardless of what happens with Verlander, if Eppler avoids the starting pitchers at the top of the major-league free-agent market, how exactly will the Mets compete to the fullest in 2024?
• The White Sox are listening on Dylan Cease and everyone else on their roster. The perception among many in the industry is that Cease and center fielder Luis Robert Jr. remain all but untouchable. But some rival executives see the White Sox’s willingness to entertain offers as an opening, however small.
In the White Sox’s view, nothing has changed. They are simply doing their due diligence, staying open-minded, assessing the values of players and what might be possible. A trade of Cease, a 2022 American League Cy Young finalist who is under club control for two additional seasons, would require a massive return. But given the demand for controllable starting pitching, who’s to say the White Sox couldn’t get what they want?
Two rentals, right-hander Lucas Giolito and reliever Reynaldo López, brought the White Sox a top 100 prospect from the Angels, catcher Edgar Quero, and a 6-foot-6 left-hander who was a second-round pick in 2021, Ky Bush. A diminished Scherzer and approximately $36 million enabled the Mets to acquire another top 100 prospect, Luisangel Acuña, from the Rangers.
The White Sox have signaled they want to compete in 2024 around a core of Cease, Robert, Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn and perhaps a few others. They play in the AL Central, the game’s weakest division. But they’ve already traded five pitchers, including one, reliever Kendall Graveman, who is under contract for next season. And at the deadline, the market changes quickly.
The pressure on buyers continues to mount as the hours tick away to the trade deadline at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday. The White Sox figure to listen right down to the end. If someone meets their price for Cease, great. If not, they will simply hold him and perhaps revisit the discussions in the offseason.
• The Reds remain active in trade conversations, but reluctant to trade major-league-ready prospects for starting pitchers who could amount to two-month rentals. In the Reds’ view, some of those youngsters might end up helping them this season, and internal reinforcements are on the way.
Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo both could return by the end of August. The bullpen down the stretch should be deep enough. If anything, the offense of late has been a bit of a concern. Prior to their 9-0 win over the Dodgers on Sunday, the Reds were averaging 4.25 runs per game in July, down from 5.67 in June. Their dip coincided with the regression of Elly De La Cruz, who had a .644 OPS in July following an .881 OPS in June (June 6 was the date of his debut).
• The Rays are another club that until an eruption on Sunday had been struggling offensively in July. Consider their month-by-month averages in runs per game prior to their 8-2 victory over the Astros.
Despite the sharp dropoff, the Rays continue to pursue pitching, believing their offense will come around. Consider the example of Brandon Lowe, who had a big day Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a home run. In 2021, he had a sub-.700 OPS through approximately the same number of plate appearances, yet finished with 39 homers and an .863 OPS. If he produces the same type of August and September, he will build on his current .760 OPS and perhaps spark a Rays revival.
• The Rangers reacted to an injury to Nathan Eovaldi on top of the season-ending loss of Jacob deGrom by trading for Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. The Blue Jays reacted to an injury to closer Jordan Romano by trading for Jordan Hicks.
The Orioles already were trying to add a starting pitcher before optioning Tyler Wells to Double A on Sunday for what manager Brandon Hyde called “a little bit of a break … a little bit of a reset.” The demotion of Wells, who had a 3.18 ERA and league-best 0.93 WHIP in his first 18 starts, theoretically should create even more urgency.
One option for the Orioles is to acquire a mid-level rental such as Tigers righty Michael Lorenzen. Another, after the acquisition of Shintaro Fujinami is to continue loading up the bullpen, perhaps with a reliever such as Mets lefty Brooks Raley.
Wells is not the only Orioles starter who might require a breather. Grayson Rodriguez, who has pitched well in three starts since returning from the minors, already has exceeded his career-high in innings. Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer also are closing in on career-highs.
• The Cubs, as first reported by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, aren’t trading Cody Bellinger. The Nationals seem disinclined to move Lane Thomas. The Rockies sent Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron to the Angels on Sunday night.
Still, a number of hitters remain available, from the Nats’ Jeimer Candelario to the Mets’ Mark Canha and Tommy Pham; the Mariners’ Teoscar Hernández to the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong to the Red Sox’s Adam Duvall and possibly Alex Verdugo.
The Brewers, even after adding Carlos Santana, want to add one more bat, and figure to grab one name off that list. The loss of Julio Teheran on Sunday to a right hip impingement does not figure to put them back in the market for a starter. Brandon Woodruff will continue his rehabilitation assignment at Triple A on Tuesday, and could rejoin the rotation soon.
• The Giants’ need for a middle infielder is less prominent than it was earlier this month. Shortstop Brandon Crawford came off the injured list Saturday and second baseman Thairo Estrada is expected to return this weekend.
A right-handed hitting platoon type still could make sense. The Giants were among the teams that pursued Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario before both went to the Dodgers. But perhaps more likely is a trade of one of the starting pitchers/bulk guys, perhaps lefty Alex Wood, either for an infielder or prospects.
The Giants’ pitching depth gives them the flexibility to make moves other teams cannot.
(Top photo of Justin Verlander: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)