Justin Verlander heads back to Houston
It’s obviously subjective, but there was perhaps no free agent on the market this winter more interesting than Justin Verlander. He’s a future Hall of Famer who was outstanding the last time we saw him in the majors, but that was a long time ago. He made just one start in 2020 before his season ended with injury, and he ultimately missed all of 2021 as well after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Despite missing all that time, the Houston Astros extended him a qualifying offer. Verlander would decline that offer, but only to up the salary a bit more. The veteran is still sticking in Houston, signing a one-year deal worth $25 million. He also has a player option for a second year at the same salary.
The Astros are losing some talent this winter, most notably Carlos Correa, who is likely to leave in free agency. But with Verlander, Houston gets their chance at a top of the rotation arm, and joining the likes of Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, and Luis Garcia, the Astros can continue their run of excellence in the AL West with that rotation. What Verlander can provide at this point is an open question as he heads into his age-39 season, but when we last saw him in 2019 he pitched to a 2.58 ERA over 223 innings with a 3.27 FIP.
Why Red Sox fans should care: The Red Sox are very clearly in the market for starting pitching help, and they could really use some quality to join Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale in their top three. Verlander was an option for that, and he’s now off the board. And more broadly, this market is moving much more quickly than many, myself included, had expected. It’s certainly too early to panic about the team’s ability to add help at the position, but it’s worth noting that these options are starting shrink in number. That said, I’m worried about the injury and age combination with Verlander, so I’m okay with passing on this deal, especially since they would have surrendered a draft pick as well.
Cy Young winners announced
Wednesday was Cy Young day, and it was a dandy of a pair of votes. The less exciting result was actually in the American League, where the winner was certainly not anyone’s pick coming into the season. Robbie Ray signed a one-year show-me deal with Toronto last winter, and the Blue Jays were awarded with a Cy Young win. The southpaw won the award with 29 of the 30 possible first-place votes. Gerrit Cole got the other. Ray finished the season with a 2.84 ERA over 32 starts and 193 1⁄3 innings.
Over on the NL side, it was an incredibly tight vote, with the top two finishers coming in with the same number of first-place votes. But ultimately it was Brewers righty Corbin Burnes taking home the award, just barely squeaking out the win over Zack Wheeler of the Phillies. Each player received 12 first place votes (Max Scherzer received the other six), but Burnes received 14 second-place votes compared to Wheeler’s. This was a bit controversial as Wheeler was only slightly worse in terms of ERA, but threw 46 more innings. Burnes was much better on a rate basis, though. I probably would have voted for Wheeler, but I thought it was close enough that it’s hard to argue too much considering this was about as close to a tie as you can get without actually tying.
Why Red Sox fans should care: The debate on the NL side is somewhat interesting if you’re into that sort of thing, but in terms of Red Sox impact it all comes on the AL side. First of all, Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t a top-three finisher, but he did come in fourth, grabbing eight third-place votes. And then there is Ray, who is a free agent this year. He was always going to command a big deal (bigger than I’d give, personally), and getting this Cy Young win certainly won’t hurt that campaign.
Qualifying offer decisions come in
Players who were extended qualifying offers from their potentially former teams had until Wednesday to accept or decline the offer, and as expected most declined it to hit the open market. Three players — Eduardo Rodriguez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Verlander — already signed contracts after declining the offer, and 10 more hit the open market with draft pic compensation attached. And then there is Brandon Belt, the Giants first baseman who was the only player to accept the offer. He only played 97 games this year, but was good when he played and finished his season hitting .274/.378/.597 for a 158 wC+. He’ll hope to have another good year in 2022 and hit the open market again next winter without draft pick compensation attached.
Why Red Sox fans should care: There’s not any huge impact for Red Sox fans, as we knew pretty much all of these free agents would have draft pick compensation attached. With Belt, the only Red Sox impact may be that it shrinks the first base market for the Yankees. Boston could target some help at that position, but I never foresaw them approaching that tier of the market.
Arizona Fall League Update
Not a hugely memorable day down in the desert for Red Sox prospects. Triston Casas did get another start, playing first base and going 1-3 with a single and an RBI. Jeter Downs started as well, playing second base and going 1-3 with a single and a strikeout. Over at third base, Christian Koss started while going 1-3 with a run and a stolen base. As far as pitching, Boston had just one representative with A.J. Politi closing out the game with a scoreless inning.