Perhaps the megawatt free agent the Mets and Yankees will grapple over this winter will not be Aaron Judge, but a well-decorated pitcher who would greatly enhance the starting rotation of either local ballclub in 2023.
Justin Verlander is expected to cop the AL Cy Young Award for the third time in his career Wednesday night, a remarkable accomplishment after he missed the entire 2021 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Even as he turns 40 in February, the slam-dunk future Hall of Famer would be a terrific short-term fit alongside former Astros teammate Gerrit Cole atop the Yankees’ rotation or as a high-end fallback replacement for Jacob deGrom alongside three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer with the Mets.
Verlander made only one start during the COVID-abridged 2020 season after beating out Cole for the Cy Young in 2019 in a close race (a 17-13 edge in first-place votes). Cole signed that winter with the Yankees on a nine-year deal worth $324 million, but they haven’t ended their drought over his first three seasons in The Bronx and are without a World Series appearance since 2009.
The Yankees made a one-year offer worth $25 million last winter to reunite the two star hurlers, but Verlander went back to Houston at the same salary over two years, albeit with an opt-out clause after Year 1.
Based on the money Scherzer landed from the Mets at the age of 37 last offseason — $43.3 million per year over three seasons – Verlander was wise to test the free-agent market that also features frontline starters such as deGrom and Giants lefty Carlos Rodon.
The nine-time All-Star posted an MLB-best 1.75 ERA over 28 regular-season starts, and despite a couple of rocky postseason outings, he did shove in his lone start against the Yankees: six innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts in Game 1 of an ALCS sweep. He also rebounded from a poor start in the Fall Classic opener against the Phillies with five strong innings in a Game 5 victory.
Verlander has spoken about wanting to pitch into his mid-40s, and likely could be swayed to leave Houston — where he has won two World Series rings since a trade from Detroit in August 2017 — by a pricey multi-year deal. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal even wrote Monday night that Verlander opted out “perhaps because he sees the potential for lucrative opportunities with the Mets, Yankees and Dodgers, among others.”
Could that offer come from Daddy MetBucks — owner Steve Cohen — if deGrom decides to leave Flushing for Texas or Atlanta or elsewhere? (Rosenthal’s report made the case that the Rangers and Braves could be priced out of the deGrom bidding, but that could be negotiating posturing by those front offices.)
Cohen could afford to sign Verlander and either Rodon or Mets free agent Chris Bassitt (who officially declined the qualifying offer Tuesday) if deGrom departs. Heck, he could afford to sign deGrom, too — Cohen Tax, be damned! — though some teams likely would never trade with the Mets again if he obliterates the top of MLB’s existing payroll structure.
Verlander certainly could be using this opt-out as leverage to squeeze a sizable raise out of the Astros, but Houston already has allowed Cole, outfielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa to leave via free agency in recent years without getting into bidding wars.
While the two New York franchises remain focused on retaining their unsigned superstars – Judge and deGrom – Verlander would be a worthy win-now, back-page-worthy addition for the Yankees and Mets to fight over this winter.
Today’s back page
Beasts of the East?
Exactly zero people in New York — probably even inside the team facilities in East Rutherford and Florham Park — expected the Giants and Jets to have a 13-5 combined record through nine games apiece.
As a former coach for both franchises once famously said, you are what your record says you are. And those records slightly past the midpoint of the season suggest that either or both local gridiron squads legitimately can vie for a division title.
All eight teams in the two East divisions amazingly are at .500 or better through nine or 10 games. Robert Saleh’s Jets (6-3) trail the Dolphins (7-3) by a half-game in the AFC East, tied with the Bills (who lost in overtime Sunday to the Vikings) and a game ahead of the Patriots (5-4) entering this week’s monumental visit to Foxborough out of the bye week.
Competing for the division still feels like a long shot for the Jets, with additional road games at Minnesota, Buffalo, Seattle and Miami remaining. But few expected them to down the Bills for their fifth win in six games ahead of their week off.
With their next three games against Detroit (3-6) at home, at Dallas on Thanksgiving and at home against Washington (5-5) on Dec. 4, first-year coach Brian Daboll’s team needs to remain within one of the Eagles for the first of two scheduled meetings over the final five games — on Dec. 11 at MetLife Stadium — to be a first-place clash in the NFC East.
Philly’s next three games are at the Colts, who ended a three-game losing streak with a win over Las Vegas in Jeff Saturday’s coaching debut, and at home against the Packers and the Titans.
The World is watching
The World Cup finally gets underway on Sunday, when host nation Qatar faces Ecuador, and the United States kicks off its first appearance on the global stage since 2014 with its Group B opener slated for Monday against No. 19 Wales.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter and the Americans are 16th in the current FIFA rankings, but they must navigate a tough group that also features matches against No. 5 England (Nov. 25) and No. 20 Iran (Nov. 29).
My son (the D2 college soccer coach!) and I attended a fun sendoff event Tuesday night at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, including a recording of the popular Men in Blazers soccer podcast.
The podcast guests were Welsh actor Matthew Rhys of “The Americans” fame, HBO host John Oliver and two-time World Cup winner and longtime USWNT staple Kelley O’Hara, who announced she is signing as a free agent with NJ/NY club Gotham FC.
Oliver drew applause when he said he believes the young American squad will compete for the title in 2026 when the World Cup is held in North America.