Justin Verlander won his third career Cy Young Award Wednesday night after a season that saw him post a career-best 220 ERA+ in 28 starts. Verlander, who put forth that effort as a member of the Houston Astros, just so happens to be a free agent now. Tomorrow's price, you can rest assured, is not the same as today's price.
Of course, Verlander was already slated to be one of the winter's most sought-after free agents in our estimation.:
Verlander had a most remarkable season. Remember back in the spring, when it was unclear how well or how much he'd pitch after missing most of the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery? He put those concerns out to pasture in a hurry, starting 27 times and performing well enough to compete for a third career Cy Young Award. And he did this at a time when he's nearing his 40th birthday. Verlander has lived a charmed life in many respects, no doubt, but it's admirable that he's maintained this kind of work ethic and passion for the game despite having accomplished almost everything that a pitcher can accomplish. He could've walked away and waited on his call from Cooperstown. That he instead put in the effort to come back this good is an impressive feat, and one that helps to explain the success he's had throughout his career. He declined a one-year option worth $25 million. He should net more money.
In anticipation of Verlander's latest accomplishment, we figured we'd do the thankless work of ranking his possible landing spots. (You could argue it's also pointless work, but we're in favor of whatever keeps the existential dread at bay.) Anyway, this exercise is, as always, highly subjective and for entertainment purposes only. Keep that in mind should you feel your blood pressure tick up while reading. With all the necessary couching and caveating out of the way, let's get to it.
Tier 1: Listing them because we have to
28. Miami Marlins
26. Colorado Rockies
22. Cincinnati Reds
20. Minnesota Twins
Verlander is presumably looking for an AAV valued at more than $40 million, similar to the deal Max Scherzer signed last winter with the New York Mets. Can you even imagine how Pirates owner Bob Nutting would react if Ben Cherington suggested they give that much money to a single player, let alone a soon-to-be 40-year-old? Verlander is going to get paid and he's not going to play for a non-contender. One or the other (and in some cases both) parts eliminate these teams, in our opinion.
Tier 2: Would be cool, but not going to happen
19. Detroit Tigers
We're suckers for players returning to their original teams ahead of the end of their careers, à la Zack Greinke last season with the Kansas City Royals. Alas, we don't think Verlander is all that likely to consider the Tigers for the reasons listed above.
Tier 3: Probably not a fit
16. Seattle Mariners
15. Tampa Bay Rays
11. San Diego Padres
These teams are all contenders or close to it, but we're skeptical that they're a match with Verlander for one reason or another. The Rays, for instance, aren't going to pony up for what it would take to get him in town. The Phillies, for another, are probably not spending their money on another veteran starter when they have Andrew Painter (one of the ) en route. And so on and so forth.
Tier 4: There's a case to be made
10. Texas Rangers
The Rangers, the belle of the ball last winter, have a clear and present need for pitching that newcomer Jake Odorizzi alone won't solve. As an added bonus, signing Verlander away from the Astros would allow the Rangers to feel good about themselves in relation to their in-state rivals for the first time in a long time. Even with those facts established, we're highly doubtful that the Rangers land Verlander. They would have to outbid everyone else by a fair margin. It's possible, but unlikely.
The Red Sox are losing most of their rotation to free agency, making them an obvious candidate to take a swing at a veteran starter or three. The quantity aspect makes us think the Red Sox are probably more likely to target downmarket types, be it Andrew Heaney, José Quintana or someone else in that range, rather than Verlander. It would be nice to see the Red Sox behave like a big-market behemoth again though.
Speaking of behaving like a big-market behemoth, we fully expect the Giants to chase Aaron Judge and throw coin around elsewhere this winter. Verlander could well be part of their plans, though we suspect they won't be the only National League West team making a run at adding him to their rotation. The other team happens to have superior World Series odds, too, making it hard to put the Giants much higher on this list.
The Braves still have to resolve their shortstop situation, be it by re-signing Dansby Swanson or adding one of the other top free agents to the mix. Until that's figured out, it's hard for us to see them spending what it would take to nab Verlander. That said, Alex Anthopolous works quickly and aggressively, so who knows for sure.
We're wishcasting for this to happen because it would be fun to see the upstart Orioles land a premium free-agent talent. Moreover, the Orioles are managed generally by former Astros executives who are familiar with Verlander from their shared time together. Would the Orioles really pay Verlander what it would take? And would he be willing to link up with a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2016? We're not sure on either aspect, and that's what kept us from ranking the Orioles a little higher.
Tier 5: The favorites
The Yankees are losing Jameson Taillon to free agency, meaning they could use another reliable starting pitcher. Reuniting Verlander and Gerrit Cole reads like a win on paper, but Brian Cashman has to concern himself first and foremost with locking down Aaron Judge. We're not certain the Yankees would be willing to throw another $70 million (or so) onto their tax number, even if it was just for a year or two. We're listing them highly anyway, just in case they start to feel like the Yankees of old.
4. New York Mets
On the topic of contingency plans, the Mets still have to figure out how to retain or replace ace Jacob deGrom and center fielder Brandon Nimmo. That'll keep Billy Eppler busy enough, but might he view Verlander as Plan B if the deGrom bidding goes beyond his comfort zone? Heck, does owner Steven Cohen even have borders on his comfort zone? We'll find out soon enough, we reckon.
3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are, in addition to the Giants, one of the trendy underdog picks to land a top free agent or two. Most of their efforts seem focused on the shortstops, but wouldn't Verlander make for a nifty addition to the top of Chicago's rotation? He'd give the Cubs a legitimate frontline starter, and an invaluable resource for their young arms. We're probably overrating the possibility, but it's nice to have dreams.
We've joked before that we feel legally obligated to list the Dodgers near the top of these kinds of pieces regardless of the fit. You have to admit, though, that the Dodgers pursuing Verlander makes a ton of sense. They have oodles of payroll flexibility this winter, and they'll be down Walker Buehler for all of next year. Andrew Friedman has shown a willingness to hand out short-term, high-salary deals in the past. That's the exact kind of deal Verlander figures to be pursuing. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Dodgers are almost certain to enter the spring as one of the World Series favorites.
1. Houston Astros
Owner Jim Crane played a huge role in the original trade that landed Verlander. He's since taken on more power on the baseball operations front, so it stands to reason that the Astros will remain front and center on Verlander. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll retain him -- if the past week-plus has shown anything, it's that Crane is willing to make bold, potentially unpopular decisions -- but it does make them a justifiable favorite.