All offseason long, the question lingered: With Justin Verlander seemingly set to leave the Houston Astros, could his longtime enemy the Los Angeles Dodgers be in play? Who else would pay the reported price for a veteran rotation topper who could line up alongside Clayton Kershaw and help the team absorb the Walker Buehler hit for another year?
Turns out ... the New York Mets would. They would, in fact, go above and beyond the Dodgers' brief forays into the potential Verlander acquisition, leaving LA "not particularly close" when the dust settled.
At the time, Verlander was an intriguing bet, especially after his 2022 season showed very few signs of decay post-Tommy John surgery at the age of 39. Sure, his World Series appearance left something to be desired, but isn't that always the case for Verlander, one of the (somehow) worst Fall Classic "winners" of his generation (1-6, 5.63 ERA career)? His 175 regular season innings were overwhelming; his 1.75 ERA and 116 hits allowed were eye-popping, chart-topping numbers, worth $86.67 million over his age 40 and 41 seasons to a Mets team looking to leapfrog the field to legitimacy.
So far, so very "meh." Verlander sports a 4.50 ERA through nine starts, striking out a comparatively unimpressive 44 men in 52 innings. He's been fine. Each "fine" start has cost $9.63 million. Combined with a team-wide offensive malaise, the less-than-dominant turns in the rotation from Verlander and Max Scherzer have left the Mets as the least intriguing team money can buy.
So how do they build a better future? Blow it all up? Stand pat and hope for a rebound? There might not be much recourse here -- and if the Mets can't do much to bury Verlander's coin, then the Dodgers certainly wouldn't have many creative opportunities, either.
Dodgers dodged huge potential anchor with Justin Verlander signing
Yes. The Mets' focus is now on the future. That's why you spend $80 million in the present to add the Dodgers' aging 2021 trade deadline ace, as well as their loftiest 2022-23 offseason target (who is also Paul Rudd's age in "This is 40").
The Dodgers' focus is also on the future, which is why they turned several key starting roles over to rookies one year ahead of Shohei Ohtani's free agency, a pool the Mets are also prepared to wade into. That might've been a wiser maneuver -- yes, even though the Dodgers made a poor bet on Noah Syndergaard and seemingly forgot to pack a bullpen this year.
Los Angeles' "rebuilding year" leaves them solidly in the driver's seat of NL Wild Card contention, with upstart Giants and D-Backs teams between them and the NL West crown. The Mets' all-in season features two aging aces making Oprah money pitching like Jordan Montgomery. Whether the Mets stand pat or try to pull off something insane, their fate will be determined by a major roadblock the Dodgers were outbid for by tens of millions of dollars. There's always next year, and -- in New York, at least -- there's always more money to waste.