NEW YORK — Given the date on the calendar when Justin Verlander earned his 250th career win in a 5-2 Mets win over the Nationals on Sunday, the accomplishment seemed to matter only in the context of one thing. The trade deadline is two days away, Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET. Verlander is a valuable pitcher who has pitched as well as any Major Leaguer in recent weeks. It doesn’t take much to connect these dots: a team willing to trade Max Scherzer might also be willing to trade Verlander.
Before Sunday’s game, general manager Billy Eppler hardly dismissed rumors that the Mets are shopping Verlander, saying he intends to make an offer to someone.
“I mean, we want to listen,” Eppler said. “But our price points are high. We have valuations on our existing staff and the bar is high to meet it.”
The question then becomes whether Verlander would be receptive to a move. Like Scherzer, he has a full no-trade clause. Like Scherzer, his opinion of the organization has changed in recent days. Asked directly if he would waive his no-trade clause to move to a contender, Verlander was noncommittal.
“I think a lot of it depends on how the organization looks at next year,” Verlander said. “I think (the Scherzer trade) is a tough sign to try to go back to that. I’m committed to trying to win a championship here, but if the organization decides that it’s not exactly the direction that they think it is the best fit to go to next year and go for it again, so yeah, I’d be more open to it.”
Verlander added that he intends to keep private any conversations he has with Eppler and owner Steve Cohen, the former of whom has spent much of this weekend making players unhappy with his two recent trades.
Can two become more? The difficulty with trading Verlander is that, as things currently stand, he’s a surefire member of the Mets’ 2024 rotation. But if the Mets can get the same style of return they did by trading Scherzer for Top 100 prospect Luisangel Acuña, they’ll have to consider it. They can always replace Verlander in free agency this winter, as Eppler acknowledged by noting that he plans to be active there again. And they may be able to get a significant return, given Verlander’s postseason pedigree and 1.49 ERA over his last seven starts.
Basically, the Mets have to infer that trading Verlander offers a clearer path to short-term competitiveness than keeping him.
“I think it’s a little wait and see,” Verlander said. “See what opportunities come my way, their way, see who else potentially gets traded. There’s a lot of moving parts here. Right now, there’s a lot of gray areas. And I can’t make a decision with a lot of what-ifs.
Although the possibility of a sale has loomed over the Mets for most of July, it didn’t crystallize until the team traded closer David Robertson to the Marlins late Thursday night. Even then, the idea of a big-format sale didn’t seem to register in the clubhouse until the Mets traded Scherzer to the Rangers on Saturday. With that, first baseman Pete Alonso said, even nonbelievers began to realize that anyone could walk.
“I think it’s the unknown that drives the players crazy,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You try to tell them everything you know and be honest and upfront. You don’t know if something else is going to happen.”
Realistically, several things will. The Mets have at least two impending free agents in Tommy Pham and Mark Canha who have performed well enough to make deals seem inevitable. Plenty of others, including reliever Brooks Raley and, of course, Verlander, could also be on the move.
Some players, such as Pham, have been through this before. A Deadline acquisition of the Rays in 2018 and the Red Sox in 2022, Pham laughed earlier this weekend when another reporter — on the other day, anyway — approached him to ask about trade possibilities.
“I don’t even think about it until they pull me into the office and tell me,” Pham said.
But that doesn’t mean he and Verlander are immune to the emotions that come with being traded — or just the possibility of it.
“You never assume just because someone is a veteran player and has been through it before that it’s not a problem,” Showalter said. “I’ve never had anyone say, ‘Oh, it’s no problem. I’ve been through this a hundred times.’ It’s a big deal. It’s their families. It’s their life. They’re people, not pieces of meat.”