Another future HOFer with injury risk?
As if the Fantasy Baseball player in me didn’t love the idea of Kershaw being a free agent enough, he’s not the only future Hall of Famer on this list. No, I’m not talking about Max Scherzer either, although I’ll likely talk about how I hope the Blue Jays pursue him as well another day. This time I’m referring to a name that’s almost been forgotten in some circles, and that’s Justin Verlander.
Unlike Kershaw, Verlander was extended the Qualifying Offer by the Houston Astros, which comes as a bit of a surprise. I only say that because Verlander will be 39 before the start of next season, and he hasn’t pitched in a big league game since July 24, 2020. After undergoing Tommy John surgery and sitting out for the 2021 campaign, he’ll hope to come back and pitch for another season or two in order to finish his career on his own terms.
While it’s not all that common to get excited about a 39 year old starting pitcher, Verlander is anything but common. During his last full season in 2019 he was outstanding while winning the AL Cy Young award and finishing with a league-leading 34 starts, 21 wins, 223.0 innings pitched, and a staggeringly low WHIP of 0.803. It won’t be easy for him to return to that type of form, but he doesn’t have to make it all the way back in order to be a tremendous asset for his next team in 2022.
It remains to be seen if Verlander will accept the QO or not, and it might come down to how badly he wants to stay in Houston. I’m sure winning will be foremost on the veteran’s mind before he decides on his next contract, and while Houston has long been a desirable location in that regard, they could be entering a different period. It sounds like they’ll remain aggressive with the goal of competing in 2022 and beyond, but they could very well lose Carlos Correa as a free agent this winter, and that’s just a year after George Springer left for Toronto.
If Verlander chooses not to return to Houston and hits the free agent market instead, I would be thrilled to see the Blue Jays pursuing him. It takes a lot to bet on a soon-to-be 39 year old coming off of Tommy John surgery, but Verlander has been that special throughout his career, and I wouldn’t bet against him.