The Dodgers are reportedly meeting with free agent Justin Verlander today, according to Jon Heyman of The New York Post.
The fit between Verlander and the Dodgers makes sense for a number of reasons. Despite being among the game’s biggest spenders, the Dodgers tend to prefer shorter-term contracts as opposed to lengthy commitments. The last time they gave a starting pitcher a guarantee longer than three years was to Brandon McCarthy going into 2015. Verlander turns 40 in February and will be limited in how many years he can reasonably ask for this offseason.
Verlander’s free agency has often been compared to that of Max Scherzer, another pitcher who has remained effective as an ace-level hurler into the age when many others begin to decline. Scherzer signed with the Mets a year ago for $130MM over three years, an average annual value of $43.33MM. MLBTR predicted Verlander to come in just under that, $120MM over three years, AAV of $40MM. Verlander is coming off an excellent platform season, winning the AL Cy Young after throwing 175 innings with a 1.75 ERA. However, Scherzer was going into his age-37 season when his deal was signed and will turn 40 just as it winds down, though he can also opt out after the second year. In Verlander’s case, he’s going to be 40 when his next deal begins.
Regardless, Verlander showed in 2022 that he’s still one of the best pitchers in the game, which is something the Dodgers could use. Walker Buehler required Tommy John surgery in August and will miss most of 2023, perhaps even all of it. The club also lost Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson to free agency, with Anderson having already inked a new deal with the Angels.
The Dodgers have reportedly agreed to bring Clayton Kershaw back for another year, who will join Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May in the front four spots of the rotation. That’s a solid group in terms of talent but there are still concerns. Kershaw is still excellent when healthy but regularly deals with injuries, having not reached 130 innings in a season since 2019. Gonsolin had an excellent breakout in 2022 but dealt with a forearm strain down the stretch. May just returned from Tommy John but only made six starts this year. Despite debuting in 2019, he only has 25 career starts under his belt so far. Urías has been great in the past three seasons but he’s a free agent after 2023.
There are some intriguing in-house options for the fifth spot in the rotation, such as Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Andre Jackson, Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone. However, the latter two haven’t cracked the 40-man roster yet and the others still have limited experience and minor league options. Adding another starter would improve the big league club while allowing those guys to head to the minors and battle each other for who gets the call when an injury creates an opening.
Verlander has been with the Astros since a deadline deal in 2017 and seemed a candidate to return on the heels of their World Series victory here in 2022. However, recent reporting has suggested that owner Jim Crane, who is temporarily running the show after parting ways with general manager James Click, isn’t interested in giving Verlander the three-year deal he’s looking for. Even without Verlander, Houston would have a really strong rotation mix consisting of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Hunter Brown. Since that reporting, Verlander has been connected to the Mets and the Yankees, with the Dodgers now entering the fray.
In terms of the money, the Dodgers have plenty of room relative to their recent spending. Roster Resource calculates their current payroll to be around $152MM with a competitive balance tax number of $168MM. Their Opening Day payroll was $280MM in 2022, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and the first CBT threshold is moving up to $233MM in 2023. In both cases, the Dodgers have plenty of room to work with, even if they add around $40MM by bringing Verlander aboard. The club will have other needs to address, particularly replacing Trea Turner at shortstop. However, recent reporting has suggested the club might steer clear of the big free agents and let Gavin Lux or a trade acquisition take over at that position. If that is indeed the case, perhaps their biggest spending will go towards the rotation this winter, having also been connected to Carlos Rodón recently. Though they also appear to be hanging around the Aaron Judge sweepstakes.
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