Justin Verlander breezed through the Guardians lineup tonight, tossing six innings of scoreless ball. It was another dominant performance in a season full of them for the AL Cy Young award contender, and today’s start also marked a notable contractual development. Verlander reached 130 innings on the season, meaning he’s officially vested a $25MM player option for the 2023 campaign.
Verlander is trending towards foregoing that option, as he’s in position to handily surpass a $25MM average annual value as a free agent. The nine-time All-Star commanded an identical salary this year on the heels of a season in which he didn’t pitch as he rehabbed from 2020 Tommy John surgery. Amidst one of the best seasons of a Hall of Fame career, Verlander is trending towards a massive raise. That’s particularly true since he received and rejected a qualifying offer last winter, meaning the Astros cannot offer another QO next offseason. A signing club thus won’t have to forfeit any draft pick or international signing bonus space this time around. Barring injury or a completely out-of-the-blue collapse in the final couple months, he’ll shatter a $25MM guarantee on the free agent market.
After tonight’s start, Verlander now carries a major league best 1.73 ERA. His 25.5% strikeout rate isn’t at the elite 35.1% level he posted between 2018-20, but it’s still four points above the MLB average for starters. With league-best run prevention, Verlander’s dip in strikeouts isn’t likely to have too significant an effect on his value on the open market. That’s particularly true since his 95 MPH average fastball velocity has remained intact after the elbow surgery, and he’s continued to spin both his fastball and breaking pitches at a high-end level. Verlander also owns some of the best command in the sport, and the 2011 AL MVP has proven capable of thriving on the biggest stage. He carries a career 3.40 ERA in 187 2/3 postseason innings, and he’ll have an opportunity to build on that resume with Houston this October.
Verlander’s exceptional track record sets up one of the more fascinating free agent cases of the upcoming offseason. He’s clearly reestablished himself as one of the sport’s best pitchers, the kind of ace clubs would be happy to trot out in the opening game of a playoff series. A new deal will begin with his age-40 campaign, however, setting him up for a short-term contract with a massive annual salary.
The obvious comparison point…