Baltimore Orioles Free Agency: Is Landing Justin Verlander Realistic?
The Baltimore Orioles could really use a pitcher like Justin Verlander.
The Baltimore Orioles should try to sign reigning Cy Young Award winner and Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander to anchor their pitching staff. That is a sentence that most Oriole fans would get behind. But is it realistic for the Orioles to (a) enter the bidding for Verlander, and (b) actually win the sweepstakes for him, with the Yankees and Dodgers likely to be among those trying to sign him? The answer is probably not… but maybe.
Baltimore Orioles Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias has made it no secret that he intends to upgrade the Major League roster to make a playoff push in 2023. “I think we view this as a time to hopefully make a few Major League acquisitions that will increase our chances of making the playoffs that we narrowly missed out on. We think the team is ready for that,” Elias said earlier this month.
And Elias has specifically mentioned a top-of-the-rotation starter as being at or near the top of his shopping list. ““Our priority — hopefully, if we’re able to do it — is to bring in an established starter for one of the, let’s say, top three spots in the rotation,” Elias said. Indeed, in a Q and A session, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden noted that “[t]he Orioles are swimming in the “deep end” and touching base with the agents for almost all of the free-agent pitchers. The big question: Are they ready to compete financially with the big-market teams to actually land one?”
This year’s market for free-agent top-of-the-rotation starters is stocked, and includes Justin Verlander, long-time New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom, and San Francisco Giants’ left-hander Carlos Rodon. And Verlander would be quite the prize. After undergoing Tommy John Surgery and missing the entire 2021 season, many people doubted if Verlander would be as dominant as he had been during the previous 16 seasons of his career. Instead, Verlander, 39, proved he still had plenty left in the tank, putting up 5.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last season (tied for 5th in the league among pitchers) while compiling an 18-4 record, a microscopic 1.75 ERA, and 185 strikeouts in 173 innings. He also won his first World Series game after many tries. In 18 years between the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, Verlander has won 244 games (56th all time), 3,190 strikeouts (12th all time) and appears headed for the Hall of Fame.
The free agent market has moved slowly thus far, and aside from a meeting with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, there has been very little reported about Verlander. However, several prognosticators expect Verlander to secure a deal similar to the one Max Scherzer signed with the New York Mets last offseason (three years, $126 million). MLBTradeRumors predicts Verlander returning to the Astros (where he just won a World Series) or joining the Phillies or Dodgers, for three years and $120 million, while ESPN’s experts predict a two or three-year deal in the neighborhood of $40 million annually, with the Astros and Dodgers the most likely landing spots. That’s a lot of money, and as we know, the largest contract the Orioles have ever handed out to a pitcher was for 4 years, $57 million to Alex Cobb, which didn’t go great. While they may be “swimming in the deep end,” it is more likely that they land a pitcher in the middle of the “pool”, such as Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon or Taijuan Walker.
As one of the great pitchers of the last 20 years, it is fair to say that the Orioles are a longshot to land Verlander. Verlander may prefer to sign with a “big name” team such as the Yankees or Dodgers or remain in Houston to try and repeat as World Series Champions. But if he is looking to join a team on the upswing and serve as a mentor to the number one pitching prospect in the league–and if the Orioles are serious about improving their chances to compete this year, as Mike Elias stated, then perhaps the Baltimore Orioles landing Justin Verlander is possible. Maybe.