Ranking the Top 10 Landing Spots for Astros’ Justin Verlander in MLB Free Agency

Bleacher Report

Now more than a year removed from having Tommy John surgery in October 2020, Justin Verlander is looking to get back to work in 2022.

But first, he will need to decide what team he wants to play for.

The 38-year-old might return to the Houston Astros, who extended him a qualifying offer that he must accept or reject by Nov. 17. The general expectation, though, is that the two-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time MVP will go through Door No. 2 and test the open market.

As for his value and which teams are a good fit for him, let's discuss the former and then count down 10 possibilities for the latter.

What Will Verlander Be Looking for in Free Agency?

Two years ago, Verlander won the second of his two Cy Young Awards after striking out a career-high 300 batters with a 2.58 ERA over 223 innings. He also accumulated 7.4 rWAR to further add to his lead over all other pitchers in that department since 2006. 

Alas, the next time that Verlander took a major league mound on July 24, 2020 is also the last time he did so. He initially tried to rehab the forearm strain that sidelined him, but the effort proved to be for naught when he finally went under the knife in October.

Given that he clocked at 94-97 mph with his fastball at a recent workout, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Verlander seems to be progressing well. Sherman also reported that between 15 and 20 teams were there to observe him.

If so, accepting the Astros' qualifying offer is far from Verlander's only option. And should he reject it, he'll presumably be looking to do better than the $18.4 million it would have paid him in 2022.

Signing him could cost a team $20 million for one year or $40 million over two, if not more. Though plenty of teams can afford those rates, it's fair to assume that Verlander will also value comfort and a chance to win another World Series ring.

With that in mind, let's dive into a list of potential suitors, beginning with a team that Verlander knows well.

10. Detroit Tigers

Verlander spent the first 13-and-a-half seasons of his major league career with the Detroit Tigers. They're now seemingly hoping that he's willing to go home again.

The Tigers were also present at Verlander's recent workout, per Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic. And with less than $100 million projected on their 2022 payroll, there should be plenty of space for him in their books.

The Tigers have more to offer Verlander than just money and familiarity, though. They're the only team that can offer a reunion with A.J. Hinch, who managed Verlander for parts of three seasons when both were with the Astros between 2017 and 2019.

Verlander also might be enthusiastic about playing dual roles as both an ace and a mentor in Detroit. Incumbent starters Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning all check in under the age of 25.

However, it's unclear whether Detroit's contention timeline will pass muster for Verlander. The Tigers made progress amid a respectable 77-85 season in 2021, yet they're almost certainly more than just one great starting pitcher away from getting over the hump.

9. New York Mets

Verlander spent the first 13-and-a-half seasons of his major league career with the Detroit Tigers. They're now seemingly hoping that he's willing to go home again.

The Tigers were also present at Verlander's recent workout, per Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic. And with less than $100 million projected on their 2022 payroll, there should be plenty of space for him in their books.

The Tigers have more to offer Verlander than just money and familiarity, though. They're the only team that can offer a reunion with A.J. Hinch, who managed Verlander for parts of three seasons when both were with the Astros between 2017 and 2019.

Verlander also might be enthusiastic about playing dual roles as both an ace and a mentor in Detroit. Incumbent starters Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning all check in under the age of 25.

However, it's unclear whether Detroit's contention timeline will pass muster for Verlander. The Tigers made progress amid a respectable 77-85 season in 2021, yet they're almost certainly more than just one great starting pitcher away from getting over the hump.

8. Los Angeles Angels

The Los Angeles Angels starters' ERA dipped below 5.00 this season for the first time since 2018, but only to 4.78. As such, they unsurprisingly want to make a splash.

"Frontline starting pitching is tough to acquire," general manager Perry Minasian said, according to ESPN's Alden Gonzalez. "It's very difficult. That being said, we'd like to significantly improve our rotation. That's an area where we'll definitely look for a certain type of quality."

Minasian confirmed that he had sent someone to scout Verlander's workout. He's precisely the kind of frontline starter they're looking for, and they might tempt him with both money and the chance to join forces with Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.

However, the Angels are riding a string of six straight losing seasons. And in spite of their stars, the shortage of depth on their roster isn't exactly subtle. Raisel Iglesias' free agency has opened up a hole at closer, and Luis Rengifo isn't a workable everyday option at shortstop.

To sign Verlander, the Angels either have to promise to make more moves or go ahead and make them preemptively to satisfy any doubts he might have.

#baseball, #professional

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