Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Verlander Heads Back To Houston In Stunning Finish To Mets Fire Sale

Justin Verlander pitching against the San Francisco Giants on July 1. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Mets completed their fire sale ahead of the trade deadline on Tuesday evening, as they sent ace pitcher Justin Verlander back to the Houston Astros.

In a pattern that fit all the Mets' moves in the past week as they dismantled their team, the most-expensive in baseball history, they received minor league outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford in exchange for Verlander and cash considerations. Reports indicate that the Mets will be be paying $35 million of Verlander's salary for the remainder of this season and next, the remainder of the two-year, $86 million contract he signed with the Mets last December.

Verlander pitched for Houston from 2017 through 2022, where he won two World Series rings, a pair of Cy Young Awards in 2019 and 2022, was the ALCS MVP in 2017, and made the All-Star team three times. In his six seasons with Houston, he went 61-19 with a 2.26 ERA (earned run average), with 825 strikeouts, an 0.83 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), and a .184 opponents batting average in 102 starts. In the postseason with Houston, Verlander is 9-6 with a 3.87 ERA in 19 games (18 of which were starts), with a highlight being the complete game he threw against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS.

This season, in his lone one with the Mets, Verlander went 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA (earned run average) in 16 starts, as he allowed 36 runs (33 earned) on 77 hits and 31 walks, with 81 strikeouts, in 94 1/3 innings pitched. He won his 250th career game on Sunday in what turned out to be his last start with the Mets, as he went 5 1/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits and a walk, with five strikeouts.

In the past week, the Mets, who entered the trade deadline with a record of 50-55, traded their closer, David Robertson, to Miami; the other ace of their rotation, Max Scherzer, to the Texas Rangers; outfielder Mark Canha to the Milwaukee Brewers; outfielder Tommy Pham to the Arizona Diamondbacks; and pitcher Dominic Leone to the Los Angeles Angels.

More information on who the Mets received for Verlander:

Outfielder Drew Gilbert is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Astros organization, according to Baseball America and the 68th-best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. He also ranked as the 36th-best prospect in the Majors, according to the Baseball Prospectus mid-year ranking.

The 22-year-old Gilbert was selected as the 28th overall pick in the 2022 First-Year Player Draft from the University of Tennessee. This season, in 82 games between High-A and Double-A, the left-handed batter has hit .274 with 12 home runs, 38 RBI, a .363 on-base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage, with 57 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, 19 doubles, and one triple. He represented Houston in the 2023 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

Outfielder Ryan Clifford was the No. 3 prospect in the Astros system, according to Baseball America and the No. 4 Houston prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was selected in the 11th round of the 2022 First-Year Player Draft out of Crossroads FLEX High School in Cary, North Carolina.

The 20-year-old has appeared in 83 games this season for Class-A Fayetteville and High-A Ashville, and he has hit .291 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI, with a .399 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage, giving him a .919 OPS (on-base plus slugging). In 108 minor league games, he has a slash line of .282/.405/.494, with 20 home runs, 71 RBI, 21 doubles, and 70 runs scored.

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