The Yankees have several areas of their roster to address this offseason, and one of the more perplexing areas is starting pitching. The team entered 2021 with a shaky foundation of pitchers to rely on, but wound up getting surprisingly good results out of their staff. Still, there is room to improve, and the Yankees have room to add an arm or two to ensure that they can return to the top of the American League.
It’s unclear if they can go out and get a co-ace to pair with Gerrit Cole, who has been the anchor of the rotation since putting on pinstripes two year ago, but there are a number of options in front of them. One of those choices could be to sign Justin Verlander, assuming the veteran starter declines his qualifying offer from the Houston Astros. Verlander is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery that has cost him the past two seasons, thanks to how late the 2020 season began, and while his market is unclear at the moment, it’s a solid bet that he’ll take a short-term deal to re-establish himself.
The Yankees are more than familiar with that sort of gamble — they chanced it with two of their starters this past season. The results from Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber were a mixed bag, but when they were healthy there was no denying that they were positive contributors. Taillon held up more than Kluber in the end — though Kluber had the highlight of the year, tossing a no-hitter — and is penciled into the rotation for 2022, while Kluber may be moving on toward his next home. It’s not a guarantee that Kluber won’t pitch for the Yankees next year, but the team appears to be interested in Verlander, and there’s really only one spot for a pitcher like these two.
Verlander certainly fits the mold of what the Yankees were looking for in Kluber — a former two-time Cy Young Award winner that got weighed down by recent injuries, opening the door for a change of scenery. Kluber had pitched some innings during his injury-laden years while Verlander has had all of one outing over the past two, but it’s not as simple as that might appear: Kluber dealt with separate injuries in 2019 and 2020, including a worrisome shoulder injury that reappeared in his Yankees tenure, while Verlander’s injury simply happened at the beginning of the delayed 2020 season. The timing of his surgery wound up costing him two whole seasons, but Verlander’s injury history is more clean entering free agency than Kluber’s was.
On top of that, Verlander operates in a different manner than Kluber. Verlander establishes himself with a punishing fastball, and has a reputation for maintaining high velocity deep into his outings, whereas Kluber sits in the low 90s and makes hitters chase his unique breaking ball. Verlander threw in front of scouts for more than half of the league on Monday, and his velocity touched 97 mph in the short showcase. Given the remainder of the offseason to build up his workload, Verlander could jump right back into the saddle as one of the premier pitchers in baseball, even as a 38-year-old.
The Yankees rotation wouldn’t need that right away though, since they’re in better standing than they were when they built their 2021 rotation on a house of cards. Jordan Montgomery took a major leap this year to cement himself as a middle-of-the-rotation arm, and Luis Severino finally returning from his own Tommy John surgery adds another elite weapon for Aaron Boone to fit around Cole. Néstor Cortes Jr.’s surprise 2021 season may or may not be repeatable, but even if he regresses the Yankees have a higher foundation than a year ago to work with — Taillon and Cortes are capable options for the bottom of the rotation. Not everything will break their way, but the Yankees are in a much more sensible place to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward arm now.
It’s clear that several contenders are watching Verlander’s development closely, and would be interested in handing him a spot in their rotations. The market might be aggressive, and there’s no guarantee that the Yankees can just convince him to ignore the rest of the field and choose them. Should they want to pursue Verlander though, it seems like a solid bet to make.