Two-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who has pitched just six innings since the conclusion of the 2019 season due to 2020 Tommy John surgery, held a free-agent showcase this week. Representatives from as many as 15 to 20 teams this week, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post, adding that Verlander’s fastball was clocked from 94 to 97 mph. He’s presently about 13 and a half months out from the surgery and will be 17 months removed from the procedure by the time Spring Training is set to begin.
As one would expect, the list of known teams in attendance at the showcase includes a blend of big-market contenders and a few rebuilding clubs looking to turn the corner and get back into competitive ball. Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic tweets that the Yankees, Rangers and Tigers were in attendance. Sherman notes that the Mets had two scouts present for Verlander’s workout. TSN’s Scott Mitchell adds the Blue Jays to the pile, and the Post’s Ken Davidoff lists the Giants as another suitor. Angels GM Perry Minasian told reporters that the Halos had someone present to watch Verlander as well (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Sam Blum).
Of course, given the stage of the offseason we’re at, it’s safe to assume that virtually any team with a modicum of 2022 postseason hope and/or any actual money to spent this offseason was at least present to gauge Verlander’s readiness. As Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom asked rhetorically when confirming his club’s presence at the showcase (link via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe): “Age might affect the term you consider, but if the present ability is there, why wouldn’t you be interested?”
By all accounts, the showcase went quite well. Beyond the multiple reports pegging Verlander’s velocity in the mid- to upper-90s, Sherman indicates that Verlander was able to throw all of his pitches and looked sharp across the board. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets that one scout offered a simple, two-word assessment of Verlander after watching his open audition: “He’s ready.”
It’s certainly worth noting that the showcase was held at the Cressey Performance Center — a facility run by Yankees director of health and performance Eric Cressey. Corey Kluber held his own showcase there last year and ultimately signed with the Yankees, but the mere location of Verlander’s workout doesn’t make a deal with the Yankees a foregone conclusion.
The Astros made a one-year, $18.4MM qualifying offer to Verlander over the weekend, but the widespread expectation is that he’ll reject that in search of a multi-year offer. Astros owner Jim Crane said last month that Verlander would likely be looking for a “contract of some length” in free agency, heavily implying at least a two-year term. Furthermore, hosting a showcase for two-thirds of the league is an obvious indicator that Verlander is interested in seeing what the market has to bear.
Verlander, 39 in February, didn’t pitch in 2021 and threw just six innings in 2020. Of course, in his last healthy season, he won the 2019 American League Cy Young Award after posting a 2.58 ERA in an MLB-best 223 innings with a huge 35.4% strikeout rate against a 5.0% walk rate. Verlander has said on multiple occasions in the past that he hopes to pitch well into his 40s.