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Will Justin Verlander Be Traded This Summer?

With the Astros off to a rough start here in 2024, there has been speculation that they may have to consider a selloff deadline this summer. That's right Justin Verlander is in the final guaranteed season of his contract and would be a reasonable option for a trade, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today throws cold water on that possibility.

Verlander has a full no-trade clause, which he waived last summer to move from the Mets to the Astros. Nightengale reports that the Dodgers, Rays and Mariners were all very interested in the righty, but he would only waive his trade to return to Houston as he loves playing there. Nightengale assumes from this that Verlander can't afford to be traded again to be sent packing from Houston.

As much as Verlander loves being an Astro, he may have to balance that with his desire to compete. He cited a desire to win as his reason for signing with the Mets, though that plan didn't pan out and he eventually returned to Houston in pursuit of another ring. The Astros are currently 12-22 and face an uphill climb back into contention. Playoff Odds on FanGraphs dropped to 39.9%, after being 86.2% at the start of the season. PECOTA's ranking in Baseball Prospectus is very optimistic, however, still giving them a 64.1% chance.

If the club can't get back into contention in July, perhaps Verlander would entertain the idea of ​​a move to another contender, especially since he's now 41 years old and knows for sure that he may have so many opportunities left. He has a 2.08 earned run average so far this year and should get plenty of interest. As Bob mentioned, teams like the Dodgers, Rays and Mariners were trying to get him last summer, and previous reports had clubs like the Giants, Atlanta, Padres and Orioles on the phone.

Verlander may not be a rental as he has a conditional player option in 2025. As part of the two-year contract he signed with the Mets through 2023, if he pitches 140 innings in 2024, he has a $35MM player option. 2025.

Verlander started the season on the injured list, which slightly reduced his chances of reaching 140 innings, but he still has plenty of time to get there. He didn't make his first appearance this year until April 19 and has gone just 17 1/3 innings in three starts so far. But he also started last year in the IL, didn't pitch until early May, then stayed healthy until he reached 162 1/3 innings. Another injury absence could tighten things up, but for now he has plenty of room to get to 140 as things stand.

Player options often make clubs reluctant to acquire such players at a given time due to various results. If the player finishes the season strongly, he will leave after only a few months at the club. If he doesn't perform well or gets injured, the team will be holding him for another year. But it should be noted that the worst of the really important injuries will not be there. According to Baseball Prospectus, the option also has the condition that “an independent physical examination determines that Verlander does not have an arm injury that would prevent him from being on the active roster for Opening Day 2025.”

That clause would protect clubs in the worst-case scenario where they trade Verlander, surpass the 140-inning mark but then need Tommy John surgery or another major procedure. In that case, Verlander would not be entitled to exercise his player option. There is still a chance that Verlander will struggle due to his growth and creating a player option, but there is some protection there as well. As part of last year's trade, the Mets agreed to cover part of the option.

Verlander is making $43.33MM this year but the Mets are pocketing $31.3MM of that, as reported by Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press during last year's trade. That means the Astros are on a roughly $12MM cap space this year, which will drop closer to $4MM by the time the deadline rolls around.

Despite his age, Verlander has continued to play extremely well and is in high demand this summer. His peripherals don't really support his 2.08 ERA so far this year, as he's struck out 19.1% of his opponents while issuing walks at a 10.3% clip. He has been instrumental in keeping runs off the board thus far with a .239 batting average on balls in play and a 93% strikeout rate. But it's also a small sample size of three exits after being in IL.

Last year wasn't as good as his Cy Young-winning season in 2022, but he still posted a 3.22 ERA over his 27 seasons. His 21.5% strikeout rate wasn't strong but he also limited his walks to a 6.7% clip.

Ultimately, there are many factors that will determine whether or not Verlander is traded. Club performance will obviously be one of them, as Verlander will be off the table if he returns to the playoffs. If they stay out, Verlander's feelings for Houston might make him lean toward approving a trade, but he might prefer to compete elsewhere if it's a losing season for the Astros. It's also unknown whether the club would be willing to eat what it owes Verlander to improve the chances of a return, and get another club to take on the money as a way to reduce the balance sheet tax calculation. Keeping Verlander healthy and pitching well will also be important, of course, especially with player option up in the air.

There are also long-term team plans to consider. Max Scherzer he had no intention of leaving the Mets last year until he found out the club was planning a bridge year in 2024, which prompted him to agree to a deal with the Rangers. If the Astros don't stay in contention this summer, they will have some tough decisions to make. Alex Bregman is an upcoming free agent and would be a reasonable trade candidate. Players love it Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez again José Urquidy they are scheduled for free agency after 2025, meaning they could be reserved for another chance to compete next year or could be made available this summer as part of a major reset. If the latter turns out to be the case, it seems reasonable to assume that Verlander's desire to stay in Houston will diminish, until the end of the year and 2025.

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