HomeMLB RumorsWill Justin Verlander Be Traded This Summer?

Will Justin Verlander Be Traded This Summer?

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With the Astros out to a rough start here in 2024, speculation has been mounting that they may have to consider a deadline selloff this summer. Righty Justin Verlander is in the final guaranteed season of his contract and would be a logical candidate for a trade, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today throws some cold water on the possibility.

Verlander has a full no-trade clause, which he waived last summer in order to go from the Mets to the Astros. Nightengale reports that the Dodgers, Rays and Mariners were all heavily involved for the veteran righty, but that he would only waive his no-trade to return to Houston since he loves playing there. Nightengale infers from this that Verlander isn’t likely to waive his no-trade again in order to be sent packing from Houston.

Despite Verlander’s love of being an Astro, it’s possible he will have to weigh that against his desire to compete. He cited a desire to win as his reason for signing with the Mets, though that plan didn’t work out and he eventually returned to Houston in his pursuit of another ring. The Astros are 12-22 at the moment and face a steep climb back into contention. The Playoff Odds at FanGraphs have dropped to 39.9%, after being at 86.2% at the start of the season. The PECOTA Standings at Baseball Prospectus are more optimistic, however, still giving them a 64.1% chance.

If the club can’t get back into the mix by July, perhaps Verlander would warm to the idea of moving to another contender, especially since he’s now 41 years old and is surely aware that he may only have so many chances left. He has a 2.08 earned run average so far this year and should receive plenty of interest. As Bob mentioned, teams like the Dodgers, Rays and Mariners were trying to get him last summer, and previous reporting also had clubs like the Giants, Atlanta, Padres and Orioles on the phone.

Verlander may not be a pure rental since he has a conditional player option for 2025. As part of the two-year deal he signed with the Mets going into 2023, if he throws 140 innings in 2024, he has a $35MM player option for 2025.

Verlander started the season on the injured list, which slightly lowered his chances of getting to 140 innings, but he still has plenty of time to get there. He didn’t make his debut this year until April 19 and has only logged 17 1/3 innings over three starts so far. But he also started last year on the IL, not debuting until early May, then stayed healthy the rest of the way and got to 162 1/3 innings. Another injury absence could tighten things, but he currently has plenty of room to get to 140 as things stand.

Player options often make clubs reluctant to acquire such players at the deadline because of the varying outcomes. If the player finishes the season strong, he will leave after being on the club for just a couple of months. If he performs poorly or gets injured, the team will be stuck with him for another year. But it’s worth pointing out that the extreme downside of a really significant injury won’t be present. Per Baseball Prospectus, the option also has a condition that “an independent physical exam determines Verlander does not have a right arm injury which would prevent him from being on the active roster for Opening Day 2025.”

That clause would protect clubs against the nightmare scenario where they trade for Verlander, he crosses the 140-inning mark but then requires Tommy John surgery or some other significant procedure. In that situation, Verlander would not have the right to exercise his player option. There’s still the chance of Verlander simply struggling due to his advancing age and triggering the player option, but there’s some downside protection there as well. As part of last year’s trade, the Mets agreed to cover half the option if it vests.

Verlander is making $43.33MM this year but the Mets are covering $31.3MM of that, as reported by Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press at the time of last year’s trade. That means the Astros are only on the hook for about $12MM this year, which will be down closer to $4MM by the time the deadline rolls around.

Despite his age, Verlander has continued to pitch extremely well and could be highly sought after this summer. His peripherals don’t really support his 2.08 ERA so far this year, since he has struck out just 19.1% of opponents while giving out walks at a 10.3% clip. He’s had help keeping runs off the board so far from a .239 batting average on balls in play and 93% strand rate. But it’s also a small sample size of three outings after being on the IL.

Last year wasn’t quite as dominant as his Cy Young-winning season in 2022, but he still put up a 3.22 ERA over his 27 starts. His 21.5% strikeout rate wasn’t strong but he also limited walks to a 6.7% clip.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that will determine whether Verlander is traded or not. The performance of the club will obviously be one of them, as Verlander would naturally be off the table if they get back into the playoff mix. If they stay out, Verlander’s feelings towards Houston might have him leaning against approving a trade, but he may prefer competing elsewhere if it’s a lost season for the Astros. It’s also unknown if the club would prefer to eat what they owe to Verlander to improve the prospect return, versus getting some other club to take on the money as a way of reducing their competitive balance tax calculation. Verlander staying healthy and pitching well will also be important, of course, especially with the player option up in the air.

There’s also the club’s long-term plans to consider. Max Scherzer wasn’t planning to leave the Mets last year until he found out the club was planning a sort of bridge year in 2024, which prompted him to approve a deal to the Rangers. If the Astros stay out of contention through the summer, they will have some tough decisions to make. Alex Bregman is an impending free agent and would be a logical trade candidate. Players like Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez and José Urquidy are slated for free agency after 2025, meaning they could be kept for another chance at competing next year or could be made available this summer as part of a larger reset. If that latter possibility opens up, it seems fair to assume that Verlander’s desire to stay in Houston would diminish, for the rest of this year and 2025.

What do you think is most likely for Verlander in the months to come? Have your say in the poll below!


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