Mets and Dodgers Are a Perfect Trade Match on Justin Verlander

One team could desperately use an ace, the other wants to buy top prospects. Can the Mets and Dodgers find a trade that works at the deadline?

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 04: Justin Verlander #35 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Roger Dean Stadium on March 4, 2023 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins/Getty Images)

The New York Mets have the potential to trade the two biggest names of the deadline. They already have the biggest name dealt on the books, flipping Max Scherzer (along with $35 million) to the Texas Ranger for Luisangel Acuna.

Once the trade was made, everyone’s eyes turned to Justin Verlander.

Ever since the Mets signed Verlander to pair with Scherzer, the two have been linked in regards to how they were viewed in New York. Two future first ballot Hall of Famers, taking center stage at an insane $43.3 million price tag. Once one of those aces is removed from the equation, it is fair to wonder if the strategy will be repeated with the other.

This is a seller’s market and the Mets have made it clear that they have set their sights squarely to 2024. Verlander’s value on the trade market should be even higher than Scherzer’s was, as he is coming of a Cy Young season last year and is pitching to a 1.49 ERA over his last seven starts.

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Scherzer struggled with the Mets this year, pitching to a 4.01 ERA, allowing 23 home runs in 107 2/3 innings pitched. Because of his pedigree, the Rangers were still willing to pay a steep prospect price to acquire him, especially when his salary was cut to a palatable price. If the Mets eat the same amount of money on Verlander, the prospect price should be much higher.

This is where the Mets could be in the driver’s seat in the little game of chicken they are about to play with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would want nothing more than to slot Justin Verlander atop their rotation for the stretch run of this season and into 2024.

The Mets are in the Driver’s Seat with Verlander

Justin Verlander took the mound for yesterday and made a little history in what could be his final start in a Mets uniform. The 40-year-old won his 250th career game, pitching 5 1/3 innings against the Nationals and allowing just one run.

When talking about the accomplishment after the game, Verlander acknowledged and thanked the fans for their ovation when he left the mound in the sixth inning. The applause could have just been for his last start before the deadline, or for his last start in a Mets uniform. The gravity of that moment was there though, as everyone wonders what will happen next.

Unlike Scherzer, who voiced his frustration about the Mets direction after the trade of David Robertson, Verlander has made things a bit easier on the Mets with his public stance.

While he acknowledges that he wants to be on a contender, Verlander all but said he was happy to stay with the Mets assuming the plan was to still aggressively try to win it all in 2024. Which might still be the best course of action for the Mets.

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According to SNY’s Andy Martino, there is a growing belief in the industry that Verlander is going to stay put at the deadline, with the Mets wanting to keep their ace for another run next year. Scherzer was the ace to trade if they had to pick one anyway and they got a great return back in that deal.

GM Billy Eppler has coined the phrase “repurposing” to describe the Mets strategy at the deadline, where they are “repurposing” Cohen’s steep financial investment on the team and using it to enhance their farm system. Between the Eduardo Escobar trade earlier this season, to the Scherzer trade now, the Mets have “repurposed” well over $40 million in salary to essentially buy prospects.

Now they are in a position, with their best possible trade chip, to hit a home run of a deal for their farm system. In a lot of ways, the Mets are in a win-win situation. Either they keep Verlander and have their ace set for the next few seasons, or another team meets their high asking price.

What is the Buzz Around Verlander to the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers would love nothing more than to add Justin Verlander to their starting rotation. In the offseason, the Dodgers came in second in the free agent pursuit of Verlander, offering him a two-year, $80 million deal. The Mets trumped them with a $86.6 million two-year offer, adding in a third-year vesting $35 million option if Verlander hits 140 innings pitched in 2024.

Again, there is rumored interest from the Dodgers on Verlander, with Ken Rosenthal saying that the buzz is growing louder on the situation right now.

The need is clearly there for the Dodgers, who have lost Dustin May for the season and currently have Clayton Kershaw on the IL. Kershaw is expected to be back soon, but the Dodgers are relying on a rotation of Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Lance Lynn and a bunch of young pitchers who have yet to establish themselves at the big league level.

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Bobby Miller has separated himself from that pack and looks like a rotation mainstay, but beyond him, none of the Dodgers youngsters have proven they can compete in a playoff rotation. Verlander would stabilize the unit in a massive way.

Furthermore, with the impending free agency of Urias and Kershaw, there is every chance the Dodgers could go into next season with Verlander and Walker Buehler headlining their rotation. While Buehler could be back to help the Dodgers this year, as he tries to meet a September 1st timetable to return, having him be a big part of their postseason plans can’t be counted on.

The need is there and the Dodgers have all the prospect capital to get a trade done.

After adding three position players to their system in the trades of Robertson and Scherzer, the Mets would want nothing more than to acquire some pitching in a deal for Verlander. The Dodgers have a handful of arms they can chose from to make a potential deal work.

The only question is if they will be willing to part with them to meet the Mets asking price, or if they want to just stay internal and play the long game this season. The Dodgers pursuit of Shohei Ohtaini looms over all of this, making this the perfect deal to put their top prospects on the table for.

Why the Money Matters

On the surface, you might ask why would the Dodgers need the Mets to eat $35 million on Verlander the way the Rangers did with Max Scherzer?

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As a team very familiar with the luxury tax, who was willing to pay Verlander $40 million a year this season, the Dodgers can afford anyone. Yet, this is a trade where money could play a significant role in what changes hands to allow this blockbuster to happen.

First off, the Mets don’t care about money. Getting off a $43.3 million contract is not their primary mode of operations here. They would love to pay Verlander that money to be their ace, it is more a matter of turning that ace into a large package of prospects that improves their system.

Point being, the Dodgers can’t absorb more money to lessen the prospect package they would have to give up. The Mets want to eat the money and Dodgers will likely push for as much of it as possible if they concede and give up a top pitching prospect.

Right now, the Dodgers sit just over the first luxury tax threshold. Each tier of the luxury tax is important for the Dodgers to stay under, as they have clearly set themselves up to make a run at Shohei Ohtani this offseason.

Next year, the Dodgers only have about $78 million in guaranteed salaries on their books, with most of that belonging to Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts. Now this doesn’t factor in club options, or arbitration-eligible players, but the point stands that the books are clear for Ohtani.

Every penny saved for the Dodgers on Verlander is a penny earned in making their best offer to Ohtani. Also having Verlander is a nice selling point as well.

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Despite being a big market team, who has always operated on a big payroll, the Dodgers are one of the teams that can most benefit from having an ace like Verlander on a bargain deal.

Who Would the Mets Be After in the Dodgers System?

With Bobby Miller having already established himself at the big leagues, there is little chance the Dodgers would trade him in any deal, as it would hurt their current team too much. The two names that most come to mind in this type of deal are Emmet Sheehan and Gavin Stone.

Sheehan is currently in the rotation, having pitched to a 5.77 ERA across seven starts this year. The last time out was good though for Sheehan, who went five scoreless against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday. The 23-year-old was promoted straight from Double-A, where he had a 1.86 ERA and an insane 88 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings pitched (14.9 K/9).

The Dodgers don’t want to move this type of an arm, but might have to if they want to pry Verlander from the Mets. And that is where this game of chicken really comes into play.

If you are Los Angeles, maybe it is Gavin Stone you want to deal.

The 24-year-old has been hit hard this year, pitching to a 5.79 ERA across 16 starts in Triple-A and a 12.75 ERA in four starts with the Dodgers. Still, he is a year removed from pitching to a 1.92 ERA across 121 2/3 innings in 2022, starting the season in High-A and finishing in Triple-A.

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Either Sheehan or Stone would give the Mets an arm who they could slot into their rotation that could be an impact guy in 2024. The Dodgers have plenty of prospects in their top 30 that could sweeten any trade package as well.

The NL West is more wide-open than it has been in a while right now, with the Diamondbacks and Giants both being within five games of the Dodgers one day away from the deadline. What we don’t know is how much the Dodgers are willing to push their chips in to win this year.

Both of these teams can stand pat and be happy with their direction moving forward beyond this deadline, and both could greatly benefit from making a deal. Question might be, which team blinks first in this game of chicken or do they just blow past it and miss an opportunity.