Major League Baseball
Justin Verlander is 39. Which teams will pay up for the free-agent ace?
Major League Baseball

Justin Verlander is 39. Which teams will pay up for the free-agent ace?

Published Nov. 29, 2022 10:06 a.m. ET

When Justin Verlander announced through his Instagram account that he would undergo Tommy John surgery at age 37, few expected the veteran starter would end his career on such a low and disappointing note. Never mind that, up to that point, only nine known pitchers had successfully returned to MLB after undergoing the elbow procedure at 37 years or older. Never mind that, by the time his rehab was complete, he would be among the top three oldest starters in the sport. 

There was hardly any mention of whether Verlander had thrown the final pitch of his career, mainly due to the bulldog mentality and decorated journey he had established since his 2005 major-league debut. His September 2020 announcement of the surgery, the first such procedure of his career, was another reminder of his iron-willed outlook — one that would later allow him to come out on top and enter free agency with no shortage of suitors.

"I will not let this slow down my aspirations for my career," Verlander said when announcing the surgery in 2020. "I'm going to handle this the only way I know how. I'm going to be optimistic. I'm going to put my head down, work hard, attack this rehab and hopefully come out the other side better for it. 

Hopefully when this rehab process is all said and done, this will allow me to charge through the end of my career, and be healthy as long as I want, and pitch as long as I want and accomplish some of the goals that I want in my career." 


Verlander departed for his elbow surgery as the reigning 2019 American League Cy Young winner and returned in 2022 to unanimously earn his third career Cy Young award. Verlander, who also won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors, posted a career-best 1.75 ERA across 28 starts for the Houston Astros on the way to capturing another championship with the club. 

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Now, he enters free agency having reached new heights. No AL starter recorded a higher fWAR (6.1) in 2022 than Verlander. Joining an illustrious list, he became the 11th pitcher in the history of the sport to collect three or more Cy Youngs. After being held off the mound for two years, Verlander's masterful bounceback season is expected to lead to a contract that only one other starter has enjoyed. 

Verlander is reportedly seeking a deal similar to that of his former Detroit Tigers teammate Max Scherzer, who last year became the highest-paid MLB player when he signed a three-year, $130 million contract — an annual average value of $43.3 million —with the New York Mets. Scherzer signed that dotted line at 37 years of age, and Verlander is exploring free agency at 39. Verlander is expected to earn a deal somewhere in the two-year, $80 million range with several clubs looking to lock down the indispensable right-hander. 

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The risk factor is Verlander's age. He will turn 40 in February  and has recently said he would like to pitch until he's 45. Though a potential increase in injuries will be a concern for any team that signs the veteran, this past comeback season only added to the argument that Verlander is baseball's Tom Brady. Despite his age, Verlander can become the ace of the majority of rotations. And that instant upgrade is exactly why some of the game's top contenders are the favorites to sign him.

Here's a look at where Verlander, soon to be pitching in his age-40 season, could land.

The Astros

A reunion with the Astros is still on the table for Verlander, even after he declined his $25 million player option and entered free agency. The Astros want him back and, to that end, they're seemingly willing to match competing offers. Moments after Houston won the 2022 championship, Astros owner Jim Crane said, "We're going to do our very best to try and keep him." Crane has boasted about his close relationship with Verlander and understands that the right-hander is seeking a significant raise over the $25 million he made this year. Crane and the Astros are in for a competitive bidding war, however.

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The Mets

Earlier this month, Verlander met with the Mets via Zoom, according to a report from The Athletic. That meeting should come as no surprise, seeing as how the Mets have several holes in their rotation along with an extremely wealthy owner in Steve Cohen who's willing to spend big for necessary improvements. Jacob deGrom is also exploring free agency, with the very real possibility that he could depart his homegrown team. The Mets have Scherzer headlining their rotation, with green arms like Tylor Megill and David Peterson behind him, as well as aging starter Carlos Carrasco. There is no doubt Verlander would be a solid fit with the Mets' win-now roster. The question is whether the club is willing to pay around $80 million each for Verlander and Scherzer across these next couple of years.

The Yankees

General manager Brian Cashman missed his opportunity to sign Verlander in 2017, and then again when the Yankees offered a similar deal to that of the Astros and Verlander chose the latter. Now, the Yankees are said to be interested in the right-hander again. The Bronx Bombers want to add a starting pitcher through free agency, with their targets reportedly being southpaw Carlos Rodon and Verlander. According to the New York Post, the Yankees have been in contact with Verlander and it's safe to say the nine-time All-Star will not sign a contract without checking if Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman will match it. 

The Dodgers

Here's another top contender to potentially drive up Verlander's price. The Dodgers are reportedly set to meet with Verlander in the coming days and are ready to add the marquee player to their rotation. Los Angeles has been connected to deGrom, as well. As Verlander is expected to go off the board on a shorter-term contract due to his age, it makes sense that the Dodgers are interested in adding another top-tier free agent. And, with Walker Buehler rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers have a Verlander-sized hole they need to fill.

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Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.


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