“Houston was the No. 1 choice for me,” Justin Verlander told reporters in New York on Thursday, explaining why he elected to waive his no-trade clause of his lucrative contract with the Mets.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner got back into attire that he became accustomed to for six season of his career during a re-introductory news conference with the media, donning the Astros’ “H” on his cap and warm-up top.
From his perspective, Verlander offered reporters a glimpse into the key moments that led to him accepting another run with the Astros, who begin a four-game series with the Yankees on Thursday night.
Houston traded two top prospects half Verlander’s age – outfielders Drew Gilbert, 22, and Ryan Clifford, 20 – to persuade the star pitcher’s now-former team, the Mets, who also sent cash considerations to offset $53 million of JV’s contract.
Before the news conference, the defending World Series champs posted photos of the 40-year-old’s locker with his name on it, as well as his reunion with many of the ‘Stros, whom he called “friends” during the media availability.
Just like old times. pic.twitter.com/L2jeC2YlSB
— Houston Astros (@astros) August 3, 2023
We literally love Justin Verlander. pic.twitter.com/kJqonXN1kU
— Houston Astros (@astros) August 3, 2023
Reporters gathered some key takeaways from Verlander’s meeting with the media.
Mets not expected to compete for a while
The writing was on the wall when Verlander’s platoonmate in New York, Max Scherzer, was shipped to the Texas Rangers the weekend before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Multiple reports stated Scherzer talked with Mets brass – general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen – who essentially informed him that they were shifting focus to compete in 2025 and 2026.
Verlander had the same conversation.
“If the vision super short-term wasn’t ‘we’re going to try and win a championship’ … I would like the opportunity to go to a team that’s going to fight for a championship this year and next,” Verlander explained.
How did Houston come out on top?
Verlander’s top preferred destination was the Astros, but he knew there would be several suitors. Some reported rumors floated teams like the Dodgers and the Orioles.
There were, he said, three potential destinations, but ultimately, he didn’t have to exercise veto power.
In addition, JV said multiple factors put Houston over the top, including his relationship with owner Jim Crane, the players and the city as a whole.
Still, things were uncertain, even down to the final hours of deadline day. He explained that he was with the Mets team in Kansas City, where they were part of a series with the Royals, in the event things fell through.
“‘The deal is done with Houston if you want to accept,'” Verlander quoted Mets management as saying.
Why sign with the Mets in the offseason?
Money makes the world go round, and it definitely made Verlander trade cowboy hats and boots for subways.
Verlander signed a two-year, $86.6 million contract with the Mets, which is something he admitted played a big part in his decision to leave Houston last offseason.
But, ever the competitor, he explained the club’s other roster moves gave him a win-win reason to go to the Big Apple.
“If you could rewind the clock four or five months, I think the Mets had the second-best odds to win the World Series before the season started,” he said. “It wasn’t just a contractual thing. … It was something that we looked and go, ‘Let’s try to win another championship.'”
Of course, many sportsbooks had the Astros as the favorite to repeat back on March 23. The Mets were tied for sixth-best odds.
“Everything that could go wrong did,” Verlander summed up the Mets’ season at this point.
Has he kept up with the ‘Stros?
Verlander admitted he has had limited attention on his new old team this season because of different leagues.
He does stay in touch with the players like Jose Altuve.
He did say that he’s impressed by the team’s resilience in the face of injuries throughout the roster.
“(It) shows how talented the team is,” he said.
Verlander also had a veiled dig – intentional or not – at the current AL West leaders: “Dallas has been really good.”
Transitioning to Houston
JV mentioned multiple times about looking at his latest life change through baseball and family lenses.
He admitted that moves like his second go-round to Houston is “not the funnest part,” explaining that it’s a great undertaking to uproot the family.
“It wasn’t easy,” Verlander also said about choosing to leave Houston for New York.
Of course, he’s taking the trade in stride. When asked how strange it is to face the Yankees as an Astro when he’s already faced them as a Met, he said, “I guess there’s a first time for everything. I’m just along for the ride.”
And by the way, he still has his team-issued Astros gear, which was stuffed in “about 17” bags and stored away.
When does he return to the mound as an Astro?
Got plans this weekend, ‘Stros fans? He said he expects to start on Saturday, if things hold.