HOUSTON (AP) — The Astros are bringing back Justin Verlander, acquiring the three-time Cy Young Award winner from the New York Mets in a trade deadline blockbuster Tuesday, Houston owner Jim Crane told The Associated Press.
The Astros are shipping outfield prospects Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford to New York. Crane said the Mets will send roughly $54 million to Houston to help pay off Verlander’s contract. The 40-year-old pitcher signed an $86.7 million, two-year deal with the Mets in December that includes a vesting option for 2025 at $35 million.
“(General manager) Dana (Brown) and his team worked on it hard,” Crane told the AP. “After we looked at the numbers — it’s always tough to give up prospects, but I think they determined that it was the right move. We needed starting pitching. He’s been throwing well. And I think the other factor is they ate a lot of the contract. So it wasn’t a really hard decision. It was just would we give up enough prospects?”
The underperforming Mets are dismantling the most expensive roster in major league history. They dealt ace Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers in a trade announced Sunday and followed up Tuesday by shedding Verlander.
Crane said he and Brown didn’t think there was any chance Verlander would be traded until Scherzer was dealt. After he was moved, the Astros figured they’d be a frontrunner if the Mets wanted to trade Verlander, too.
“We knew he had (the no-trade clause) and I think we felt strongly if given the opportunity, there were only a few landing spots and we were one of them,” Crane said.
Verlander earned his 250th career victory on Sunday, and 61 of those came with Houston. He was first acquired from the Detroit Tigers during the 2017 season, when he helped pitch the Astros to a World Series title.
“It gives a boost to the fans,” Crane said. “It gives a boost to the locker room. I know (manager) Dusty (Baker) will be happy. So it’s a big day when you have your Cy Young guy come back.”
Verlander won his third Cy Young Award and second World Series championship with Houston last season, then became a free agent.
He opened the season on the injured list and struggled upon his return in early May. But he’s been back in top form recently, going 4-1 with a 1.49 ERA in his past seven starts. He’s 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 16 starts overall this season, striking out 81 in 94 1/3 innings.
The Astros have won the AL West in five of the past six seasons but currently trail the first-place Rangers by a half-game.
New York at one point had a projected payroll of $365 million bolstered by aggressive owner Steve Cohen, but the club entered Tuesday 50-55 and six games out of the final NL wild-card spot. Cohen paid off around $35 million remaining on Scherzer’s contract to facilitate that deal with the Rangers, which returned top prospect Luisangel Acuña, the younger brother of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr.
Gilbert, 22, was a first-round draft pick by Houston in 2022 who ranks 68th on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects list. He’s a potential five-tool player who dominated at Class A early this season — hitting .360 with a 1.107 OPS in 21 games — before slumping after a promotion to Double-A. He’s hitting .241 with six homers and a .713 OPS in 60 games at Double-A.
The 20-year-old Clifford was an 11th-round selection in 2022 whose stock has risen since. He’s hitting .291 with 18 home runs and a .919 OPS at two A-ball stops this season.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)