BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Tuesday’s New York Post back page)
Justin Verlander accomplished everything he could in Major League Baseball. He won two championships and three Cy Young Awards. He has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for two decades, and he is still going at 39 years old. He will be in the Hall of Fame once his career is over.
When the recent Cy Young winner turns 40 on Feb.20, he will be in spring training with the New York Mets, having signed a two-year, $86.6 million deal with them on Monday.
He signed with the Mets for one thing only: a chance to play in a big market in New York.
It’s an opportunity some relish and some don’t care for. With Verlander, it’s the former.
He accomplished everything he could with the Houston Astros. All that’s left now is to be the guy that can win a championship for the Mets, who are in a 36-year championship drought.
Verlander should be commended for taking on this challenge. It’s not going to be easy for him. At some point, father time will catch up with him. He’s at an age where he’s supposed to be vulnerable. He won’t be at the level that he was in his prime after so much mileage in his arm.
The Mets signed him out of desperation for two reasons: 1) They needed a starter that can replace Jacob deGrom, who signed a five-year, $185 million deal. 2) They needed an accomplished veteran to join Max Scherzer that knows what he is doing out there when the rest of the rotation is in flux.
Chris Bassitt is likely not coming back after his comments about pitching in New York on the eve of Game 3 of the National League Division Series. He complained that playing in New York is like a gauntlet. Who knows if Tylor Megill can bounce back from a shoulder injury? Can David Peterson take the next step as a starter? Taijuan Walker left for the Philadelphia Phillies after signing a four-year, $72 million contract Tuesday.
But, as good as Verlander is for the Mets, the organization should be good for him. This is a chance to enhance his legacy. What better way to do it than ending a 36-year-old championship drought?
Mets fans are hungry for a championship. They are tired of hearing about tales of the 1986 championship team. It got old a long time ago. Sure, it’s a pleasure to reminisce about it. But the fans that are 30 and younger never saw it, and they, quite frankly, have no interest in it. They want new memories.
This is where Verlander has a chance to be a folk hero. This idea was certainly fixed in his head. He wouldn’t have to buy a meal or drink ever again if he led the Mets to a championship.
This is not about building a brand. The three-time Cy Young winner already created his own brand. This is about trying to be the finishing touch to a team’s championship drive.
This is not a pitcher who came to New York to finish his career. He came to win.
Verlander can do well because he is durable, which is something no one can say about deGrom in recent years. He is a guy who takes pride in pitching a lot of innings. He is diligent with his pitching preparation and has been known to adjust from being a power pitcher to a finesse pitcher. Sure, he can throw an occasional strike, but he has become more of a crafty pitcher in recent years.
His passion for winning is his strength. This shows this two-year deal can actually work for the Mets.
The future Hall of Famer will definitely feed off the fans’ energy at Citi Field. This is also another reason why he signed with the Mets. The fans can get the best out of him. It sure seems like he is a perfect fit for the city with his passion for the game and his craft. Think Curt Schilling from his time with the Boston Red Sox.
Unlike deGrom, Verlander will embrace the media and the attention that comes from his work. He has that personality that can make this work. This is not easy for most athletes that don’t want to be bothered.
It’s going to be fun to see what the new Met can do here. Everyone will be curious to see how much he still has left. It would be a great story if he can keep pitching at a high level in his 40s. Jamie Moyer and Rogers Clemens (though, he used steroids to enhance his career) were the only starters I can recall who pitched so well at that age. Verlander definitely has the skill and diligence to do what Moyer did.
This could work. The Mets wouldn’t have signed him if they didn’t think it could.
If he flops, it will be because of his age, and his injuries caught up with him.
How he fights it off will determine how he does in his two years with the Mets. This will be a story along with what he does every fifth day.
There won’t be a dull moment with him as a Met. It’s the way he likes it, and that’s why he signed here to likely complete a decorated career.
He is already a fan favorite just for signing with the Mets. Fans like that he gets what it’s like pitching in New York.
Now, he gets a chance to show New York what he’s all about.
This writer can be reached on Twitter: @LeslieMonteiro6