NEW YORK — By throwing another quality start at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, Justin Verlander looked like a pitcher worth trading for. Or one worth keeping. Verlander’s six scoreless innings helped the Mets beat the Yankees 9-3 at an important juncture given that only six days remain until the trade deadline.
The Mets haven’t informed teams yet of their deadline position and whether they plan to buy or sell. But at 47-53, the Mets hold the kind of record that typically leads to at least a light selloff.
The industry sees a host of the Mets’ players as potential contributors for a top contender. One American League scout, while factoring in cost and contracts, recently listed the Mets’ most tradeable players as Tommy Pham, David Robertson, Brooks Raley and Mark Canha. But what about the outlook for Verlander and Max Scherzer?
To get a better understanding of what scouts and executives think of Verlander (3.24 ERA over 15 starts) and Scherzer (4.20 ERA over 18 starts) within the trade market, The Athletic polled five evaluators for their thoughts.
If the Mets decide to sell, executives and scouts around the league view a trade involving Verlander or Scherzer as unlikely mostly because of the logistics involving cost.
Since that bad start in Atlanta (probably his worst of the season) on June 8, Justin Verlander has a 1.98 ERA.
— Will Sammon (@WillSammon) July 26, 2023
Scherzer is owed roughly $14.5 million through the end of the season. He is slated to make an additional $43.3 million next season unless he opts out to become a free agent this winter.
Verlander is owed roughly $14.5 million through the end of the season and another $43.3 million for 2024. He has a vesting option for $35 million in 2025 provided he throws 140 innings in 2024 and doesn’t have a right arm injury that would prevent him from being on the active roster to begin the 2025 season.
Relayed those numbers recently, an American League executive said, “Whatever the buy down is on a potential trade involving either of them decides the return.”
The evaluators agreed that in order to entice most teams with Verlander or Scherzer, the Mets would need to pay at least two-thirds of either of the pitchers’ remaining salaries. So, in the case of Verlander, since he’s guaranteed next season, one National League scout opined that the Mets would have to cover the 2023 number plus a good chunk of the number for 2024. An executive said, “It might take more for some clubs. It’s not for everyone.”
Even after absorbing that kind of cost, two of the executives cautioned against New York being able to fetch a splashy return. One American League executive said some teams presented with such a proposal still wouldn’t part with a top-100 prospect. He added, “Maybe.”
“I just don’t think their ability level warrants more than that,” a National League scout said, “especially given their age.”
“They are twos and threes; they’re not ones anymore, for sure,” an American League executive said. “But they are paid like ones, and that’s the problem.”
Another issue: Both players hold no-trade clauses, which adds to the difficulty of unloading either of them. Veteran players sometimes use no-trade clauses as leverage with a prospective new team. They also balance family and living concerns within their decision-making. A tipping point for some players on the block is their ability to recognize how a trade would help their outgoing organization (the one paying them). If there was a good relationship, for example, a veteran might be more inclined to waive his no-trade clause upon seeing the influx of prospects his team could fetch in return. Regardless, the clauses present hurdles.
Whenever the idea of the trade deadline gets mentioned to him, Verlander maintains that he’s committed to the Mets and winning and that he didn’t sign with New York for just one season. He said Mets GM Billy Eppler hasn’t approached him about the no-trade clause.
Would it even be worth it to the Mets to trade either of them, anyway?
By all accounts, it seems as though the Mets intend to compete at a high level in 2024. Even if the Mets can’t count on either to be aces next year, an argument can be made that both pitchers, along with Kodai Senga and José Quintana, would make for a formidable rotation if the Mets were to ink another front-line arm. Otherwise, the Mets would have to pay a high cost to trade Verlander or Scherzer, land a decent-but-not-great return and then have to pay to backfill the lost spot in the rotation. Their farm system doesn’t have anyone who appears ready to contribute to the rotation in a major way at the start of 2024.
To maintain any hope of making the playoffs in 2023, the Mets need both Scherzer and Verlander to perform at high levels.
From a purely pitching standpoint, evaluators liked Verlander, 40, more than Scherzer, 38. It’s not hard to understand why. With Scherzer, scouts worry about the effectiveness of his slider. Scherzer has been up and down while dealing with issues ranging from minor ailments to his sticky stuff suspension.
Verlander, meanwhile, has pitched much better lately, resembling the guy the Mets signed over the winter. While his walks remain up and his strikeouts down compared to his usual numbers, Verlander has a 1.98 ERA since June 8 (after his worst start of the season, against the Braves). The thing is, Scherzer might be the easier of the two to move, given the contract situation. It all leaves the Mets with less incentive to make such a messy thing work.
(Photo of Justin Verlander: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)