Justin Verlander on his way to the Mets (source)

SAN DIEGO — When General Manager Billy Eppler learned late last week that Jacob deGrom had decided to go to Texas without giving his old team a chance to do anything about it, General Manager Billy Eppler sent deGrom a congratulatory text message. The two had spoken regularly in late November, and Eppler was aware of the possibility that deGrom might sign somewhere else. Dwelling on the implications would not have been productive.

Instead, Eppler allowed less than 72 hours to pass before finding deGrom’s replacement. The Mets on Monday agreed Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86.7 million contract that includes a $35 million exercise option in 2025, a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed. The team has not yet announced the contract. When it becomes official, it will reunite Verlander with Max Scherzer, who played alongside Detroit from 2010-2014.

In fact, Eppler replaced one of the largest cans of that generation with another at less than half the total cost.

“The way we want to think about this is just opportunistic,” Eppler said generally, because he can’t comment on an outstanding deal. “If an opportunity arises based on our assessment, it is my responsibility to take advantage of it [owner] steve [Cohen] and then call him.”

A chance to acquire Verlander, who continued to defy time by turning in what was arguably his best major league season at age 39, proved too attractive for the Mets to put aside. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has had a year in which he posted a league-best ERA of 1.75 in 28 starts for the Astros and led the majors with a WHIP of .83 and a 220 league-adjusted ERA+ ( suggesting he was more than twice as effective as the average pitcher). Verlander is still throwing deep into games in his upper 90s.

More broadly, Verlander is a 17-year veteran whose accolades include nine All-Star selections, the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 AL MVP. He has won two of his three Cy Young Awards in the last four seasons. In between awards shows, he underwent Tommy John surgery, missing almost all of season 20 and 21, but returned with unprecedented success.

Given that effectiveness, Verlander made the obvious decision to back out of last year and keep $25 million on his contract with the Astros. When he did, he found a market full of teams excited by his skills and willing to look beyond his years.

In some ways, Verlander poses less of a risk than the younger deGrom. He threw more innings that year than deGrom did in 2021-22, when the longtime Met was struggling with right elbow and shoulder injuries. Verlander has proven things deGrom doesn’t, including the ability to perform well into his late 30’s. It only takes a modest leap of faith to believe Verlander can continue to thrive at the age of 40 and 41.

In a way, Verlander’s age is actually an advantage for the Mets because it allowed them to acquire him for a short-term, high-AVV deal that never would have been possible in his heyday. The AAV is identical to what the Mets gave Scherzer prior to last season. The total guaranteed value of $86.7 million is almost $100 million less than what Rangers guaranteed deGrom and almost certainly less than what Carlos Rodón, another top starter, paid for a multi-year contract is obtained.

Realistically, this deal puts the Mets out of the game for Rodón, but not for other pitchers. Verlander joins a rotation that includes Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill. His new team remains in the market for an additional starter, with options including Kodai Senga, Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and more, according to multiple sources. Eppler has mentioned several times that initial pitching responses could also come from the retail market.

Elsewhere on the roster, Eppler’s offseason agenda includes rebuilding his open-plan office beyond the $102 million signing of closer Edwin Díaz and bolstering offense with an outfielder, a DH type, or both. But the top item on his to-do list was signing a frontline starter: either deGrom or someone very similar to him.

Throughout November, Eppler kept tabs on deGrom and spoke to him and his representatives regularly. When it became clear that deGrom was leaving, Eppler broke off his congratulatory text and turned to other things. The GM declined to reveal the nature of deGrom’s response.

“He made the decision that made sense for him and his family,” Eppler said. “I was happy for him and wished him all the best. I said, ‘I’ll miss seeing you regularly.’ But yes, it was.”

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