Dodgers’ interest in Justin Verlander seemingly picking up, makes sense

When I wrote three weeks ago about the Dodgers looking to the free-agent market to fill their starting pitcher needs, I focused mostly on Jacob deGrom — and for good reason. When healthy (big qualifier), he’s the best pitcher in the game by a good margin. Signing deGrom to a short-term, high average annual value deal is right in Andrew Friedman’s wheelhouse.

But there’s another pitcher who also fits that description: Justin Verlander.

Verlander, 40 in February, is coming off a season in which he won the American League Cy Young Award by pitching to a 1.75 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 23.4 K-BB% and a 6.1 fWAR. This is remarkable for a nearly 40-year-old, but also a guy coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him all but six innings from 2020-21.

Despite his advanced (athletics-wise) age, he’s still really good.

And the chatter around the Dodgers/Verlander is picking up:

Verlander is projected by experts (The Athletic, ESPN, FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors) to land a deal in the 2-3 year range at $40-41 million annually. That’s quite the commitment for a 40-year-old, let alone a guy in his traditional prime.

This isn’t the first time Friedman has wanted to do a deal like this. He gave Rich Hill a 3-year deal after the 2016 season at a higher AAV than most expected ($16 million), he gave Clayton Kershaw a 3-year, $93 million extension after the 2018 season and, well, we all now about that other short-term, high AAV deal he gave to an objectively terrible human. Despite the Astrosness of Verlander, at least he doesn’t come with the horrible history and allegations of that other guy.


The interest makes sense, on the surface. The Dodgers are reportedly bringing Kershaw back (it just hasn’t been announced), Julio Urias is a free agent after the 2023 season and they’ll be without Walker Buehler until 2024, so filling the rotation with a premium pitcher like Verlander makes sense. However, there are a couple of things to keep an eye on, should the Dodgers sign Verlander.

The 175 innings he logged in ’22 were the fewest since 2017 — when he split time with the Tigers and Astros (and no, I’m not rehashing the Yu Darvish-Verlander debate that wasn’t really ever a debate and only was so because of hindsight). While his velocity was basically the same as before TJ, he saw his strikeout percentage dip from 35.4% in 2019 “down” to 27.8 last season. It was still the 10th-best among qualified starters, but it was the first time since joining the Astros that it was sub-35%. This is probably due to him missing fewer bats overall — especially with his 4-seam fastball.

YearAvg. SpinWhiff%PutAway%

You could chalk it up to it being his first season back from TJ, but he won the Cy Young, so, maybe not? But despite the reduced spin and ability to generate whiffs, he allowed a career-best .194 batting average against and .285 slugging percentage against on it, so that helps explain why it was so effective despite not being the put away pitch it had been the previous six seasons.

He made up for the lack of strikeouts by keeping the ball in the park (6.2 HR/FB — 2nd-best of his career) and on the ground enough (37.9 GB%) to keep the damage against him to a minimum. His wOBA and xwOBA against were in the Top 1% and 9%, respectively, so it wasn’t like he was getting overly lucky. He limited exit velocity (87.8 MPH) and was basically in line with the rest of his career numbers.


There’s risk when signing any pitcher. There’s risk when signing any pitcher to a 9-figure deal. That risk is compounded when you factor in said pitcher being nearly 40 years old.

Oh, and then there’s this.

Yeah, this is going to be a thing if Verlander signs. And then the Dodgers will sign Shohei Ohtani next winter and the insufferability of Justin’s little brother might just be too much for Dodger fans to handle.

Anyway, on paper, this makes sense. But a lot of things make sense on paper. I’d go with deGrom or even Carlos Rodon over Verlander, but we’ll see what Friedman and Co. end up doing.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.