Justin Verlander heading to Mets (source)

SAN DIEGO — Upon learning late last week that Jacob de Grom Had decided to leave for Texas without giving his old team a chance to counter, general manager Billy Eppler sent deGrom a congratulatory text message. The two had spoken regularly in late November, and Eppler understood the possibility that deGrom might sign elsewhere. Lingering on the implications would not have been productive.

Instead, Eppler allowed fewer than 72 hours to pass before finding deGrom’s replacement. The Mets on Monday agreed to terms with Justin Verander on a two-year, $86.7 million contract, which includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025, a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed. The team has not yet announced the contract. When it becomes official, it will reunite with Verlander Max Scherzerwho played alongside him from 2010-14 with Detroit.

In effect, Eppler replaced one of the greatest pitchers of this generation with another, at less than half the total cost.

“The way we want to think about it is just being opportunistic,” Eppler said, speaking generally because he cannot comment on a deal that’s still pending. “If an opportunity comes along, based on our valuation, my responsibility is to take that to [owner] steve [Cohen] and then make a call on it.”

A chance to acquire Verlander, who continued to defy time by submitting arguably his best Major League season at age 39, proved too appealing for the Mets to set aside. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is coming off a year in which he produced a league-best 1.75 ERA over 28 starts for the Astros, leading the Majors with a 0.83 WHIP and a 220 league-adjusted ERA+ (which suggests he was more than twice as effective as an average pitcher). Verlander still throws in the upper 90s deep into games.

From a wider scope, Verlander is a 17-year veteran whose accolades include nine All-Star selections, the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 AL MVP. He’s earned two of his three Cy Young Awards in the past four seasons. Between awards, he underwent Tommy John surgery, missing almost all of ’20 and all of ’21 but returning with unprecedented success.

Given such effectiveness, Verlander made the obvious decision to opt out of the final year and $25 million remaining on his contract with the Astros. When he did, he found a market full of teams enamored with his skill set and willing to look past his age.

In some ways, Verlander presents less of a risk than the younger deGrom. He threw more innings this year than deGrom did in 2021-22 combined, as the longtime Met battled right elbow and shoulder injuries. Verlander has proven things that deGrom has not, including an ability to perform into his late 30s. It takes only a modest leap of faith to believe Verlander can continue to find success at ages 40 and 41.

In one sense, Verlander’s age is actually a benefit for the Mets, because it allowed them to acquire him on a short-term, high-average annual value deal, which never would have been possible in his prime. The AAV is identical to what the Mets gave Scherzer prior to last season. The total guaranteed value of $86.7 million is nearly $100 million less than what the Rangers guaranteed deGrom, and almost certainly less than what Carlos Rodón, another top starter, will receive on a multiyear contract.

Realistically, this deal does take the Mets out of play for Rodón, but not for other pitchers. Verlander is joining a rotation that includes Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill. His new team remains in the market for an additional starter, according to multiple sources, with options including Kodai Senga, Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and others. Eppler has mentioned on several occasions that starting pitching answers could also come via the trade market.

Elsewhere on the roster, Eppler’s offseason agenda includes rebuilding his bullpen beyond the $102 million re-signing of closer Edwin Diaz, while also fortifying the offense with an outfielder, a DH type or both. But the most important item on his to-do list was to sign a frontline starter: either deGrom or someone very much like him.

Throughout November, Eppler kept tabs on deGrom, speaking regularly with him and his representatives. When it became clear that deGrom was going to leave, Eppler shot off his congratulatory text message and moved on to other matters. The GM declined to divulge the nature of deGrom’s reply.

“He made the decision that made sense for him and his family,” Eppler said. “I was happy for him and wished him well. I said, ‘I’ll miss seeing you on a regular basis.’ But yeah, that was it.”

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