SAN DIEGO - The New York Mets wasted no time making up for the loss of ace Jacob deGrom, opening the MLB Winter Meetings on Monday with a blockbuster.
The Mets agreed to a deal with three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on a two-year, $86.6 million contract with a vesting option at $35 million for 2025, a baseball official with direct knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity since the deal is not yet finalized. The contract will vest if Verlander pitches at least 140 innings in 2024.
The deal reunites Verlander and Max Scherzer, who played together for four years with the Detroit Tigers. The Mets signed Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract a year ago, which was the highest annual average contract in baseball history, and is now tied by Verlander.
Verlander, 39, 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA, won two Cy Young awards and two World Series championships with the Houston Astros. The Astros were interested in retaining Verlander, but not at the salary the Mets were offering.
The Los Angeles Dodgers also strongly pursued Verlander, but also weren't willing to pay Verlander that high of an average salary and would not guarantee a third season. The Dodgers' highest-paid pitcher is three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who officially signed his one-year, $20 million contract Monday morning.
After losing deGrom to the Texas Rangers in free agency last week, the Mets turned their attention to the future Hall of Famer.
Verlander, 39, leads all active pitchers with 244 wins and 3,198 strikeouts over his 17 MLB seasons, all of them in the American League.
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In three full seasons with the Astros, Verlander finished second, first and first in the AL Cy Young balloting. This year, he led the league with 18 wins and a microscopic 1.75 ERA, the lowest by an AL pitcher in a full season since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 2000.
Even more impressive is that he did it after pitching a total of six innings in 2020 and 2021 due to elbow issues and his recovery from Tommy John surgery. However, Verlander came back as strong as ever this year and finally got the first World Series win of his career - gutting out five innings of one-run ball in a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 of the Fall Classic.
The Mets offered deGrom a three-year, contract for about $120 million before he informed them he was going to Texas.
The news of Verlander's contract was first reported by former veteran infielder Carlos Baerga, who said Sunday on his Instagram account that Verlander was signing a two-year deal for $86.8 million, which was just $200,000 off the final deal. The Mets, however, said they were uninformed of Verlander's decision until Monday morning.
The Mets say they still are interested in signing at least one more free agent starter, but are now out on San Francisco Giants ace Carlos Rodon, who is seeking at least a six-year contract.
They are focusing on a mid-tier starter such as Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Johnny Cueto, Jameson Taillon or Jose Quintana.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justin Verlander agrees to $86.6 million free agent contract with Mets