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Ranking of free touchdown spots by Justin Verlander, including an Astros return and a Gerrit Cole reunion

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Justin Verlander won his third Cy Young Award Wednesday night after a season that saw him post a career-best 220 ERA in 28 starts. Verlander, who made the effort as a member of the Houston AstrosYou happen to be a free agent now. You can rest assured that tomorrow’s price is not the same as today’s price.

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Of course, Verlander was already destined to be one of the most sought-after free agents of the winter in our estimation. CBS Sports recently ranked him the sixth best free agent in the class, and the second best player, writing the following:

Verlander had a great season. Remember back in the spring, when it wasn’t clear how good or how much he did after missing most of the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery? He hastily put those concerns to pasture, making 27 starts and doing well enough to compete for his third career Cy Young Award. And he did so as he approached his fortieth birthday. Verlander has lived a charmed life in many respects, no doubt, but it’s admirable that he’s maintained this kind of work ethic and passion for the game despite achieving nearly everything a pitcher can accomplish. He could have walked away and waited for his call from Cooperstown. That he instead made the effort to recapture that goodness is an impressive feat, and helps explain the success he’s had throughout his career. He turned down an option of one year worth $25 million. He should make more money.

In anticipation of Verlander’s latest feat, we figured we’d be going to serious work arranging his potential landing sites. (You could argue that it’s pointless, but we’re all for whatever keeps existential horror at bay.) Anyway, this exercise is, as always, very personal and for entertainment purposes only. Keep this in mind if you feel high blood pressure while reading. With all the compromise and warning out of the way, let’s get to it.

Level 1: We include them because we have to

30. Oakland Athletics

29. Pittsburgh Pirates

28. Miami Marlins

27. Cleveland Guardians

26. Colorado Rockies

25. Washington Nationals

24. Milwaukee Brewers

23. Kansas City Royals

22. Cincinnati Reds

21. Arizona Diamondbacks

20. Minnesota Twins

Verlander is supposed to be looking for an AAV worth more than $40 million, similar to the deal Max Scherzer signed last winter with New York Mets. Can you even imagine how Pirates owner Bob Nutting would react if Ben Cherington suggested he offer that much money to a single player, let alone 40 soon? Verlander will be paid and will not play for a non-competing account. One part or the other (and in some cases both) eliminates these teams, in our opinion.

Level 2: It would be cool, but it won’t

19. Detroit Tigers

We’re fond of players returning to their home teams before the end of their careers, similar to Zack Greinke last season with the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, we don’t think Verlander is likely to consider Tigers for the reasons listed above.

Level 3: It probably doesn’t suit you

18. Chicago White Sox

17. Los Angeles Angels

16. Seattle Mariners

15th. Tampa Bay Rays

14. Toronto Blue Jays

13. Philadelphia Phillies

12. St. Louis Cardinals

11. San Diego Padres

All of these teams are in or close rivals, but we suspect they are a match for Verlander for one reason or another. The Rays, for one, won’t give up what it might take to get him to town. On the other hand, the Phillies probably aren’t spending their money on another veteran rookie when they have Andrew Painter (one of The best young arms in the palace) in the path. And so on and so forth.

Level 4: There is a case to be made

10. Texas Rangers

The Rangers, the belle of the ball last winter, have a clear and present need for pitching that newcomer Jake O’Dorizi won’t solve on his own. As an added bonus, Verlander’s signing away from the Astros will allow the Guards to feel good about themselves in relation to their in-state rivals for the first time in a long time. Even with these facts proven, we highly doubt the Land Rangers Verlander. They would have to outbid everyone else by a fair margin. It is possible, but unlikely.

9. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox lose most of their rotation to free agency, making them an obvious candidate to swing at a veteran starter or three. The quantitative side makes us think the Red Sox are more likely to target lower-market types, whether it’s Andrew Heaney or Jose Quintana or someone else in that range, rather than Verlander. It would be nice to see the Red Sox act like a big market giant again.

8. San Francisco Giants

Speaking of behaving like a giant in the market, we fully expect the Giants to chase Aaron Judge and toss the coin elsewhere this winter. Verlander could be a part of their plans, though we suspect they won’t be the only National League West team dared to add to their rotation. The other team just happens to have superior odds in the World Series as well, which makes it hard to place the Giants higher on this list.

7. Atlanta Braves

The Braves have yet to resolve their shortstop situation, whether that be by re-signing Dansby Swanson or adding one of their other top free agents into the mix. Until that is determined, it’s hard for us to see them spend what it would take to take over Verlander. However, Alex Anthopolous is running fast and hard, and who knows for sure.

6. Baltimore Orioles

We hope this happens because it will be interesting to see such outstanding free agent talent. Furthermore, the Orioles are generally managed by former Astros executives who are familiar with Verlander from their shared time together. Will the Orioles really pay Verlander what it takes? And would he be willing to link up with a team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2016? We’re not sure which side, and that’s what kept us from ranking the Orioles a little higher.

Level 5: Favorites

5. New York Yankees

The Yankees are losing Jameson Tellon to free agency, which means they could use another reliable starting pitcher. Verlander and Gerrit Cole’s reunion sounds like a win on paper, but Brian Cashman has to take care of Aaron Judge’s shutdown first and foremost. We’re not sure the Yankees would be willing to throw another $70 million (or so) on their tax number, even if it’s just for a year or two. We’re including them high anyway, just in case they’re starting to feel like old Yankees.

4. New York Mets

On the subject of contingency plans, the Mets have yet to figure out how to retain or replace ace Jacob DeGrom and quarterback Brandon Nimmo. This will keep Billy Eppler busy enough, but could he see Verlander as a plan B if DeGroom’s bidding goes beyond his comfort zone? Heck, does owner Stephen Cohen have boundaries on his comfort zone? We’ll find out soon enough, we guess.

3. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs, along with the Giants, are one of the modern underdogs to land a top free agent or two. Most of their efforts seem to focus on the shortstops, but wouldn’t Verlander make a neat addition to the top of the Chicago course? It would give the Cubs a legitimate start on the front lines, and an invaluable resource for their young arms. We may be overestimating the possibility, but it’s nice to have dreams.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

We’ve joked before that we feel legally obligated to list the Dodgers near the top of these types of bits regardless of fit. You have to admit, though, that the Dodgers going after Verlander makes sense. They have a lot of payroll flexibility this winter, and they’ll fall back on Walker Buehler all next year. Andrew Friedman has shown a willingness to deliver short-term, high-paying deals in the past. This is the exact kind of deal Verlander has to pursue. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Dodgers are almost certain to go into the spring as one of the World Series favorites.

1. Houston Astros

Owner Jim Crane played a large role in the original trade that landed Verlander. He’s since gained more traction on the baseball operations front, so it makes sense for the Astros to remain front and center on Verlander. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll keep him – if the past extra week has shown anything, it’s that the Crane is willing to make bold, potentially unpopular decisions – but it does make them a justifiable favorite.

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