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Justin Verlander: How Much Can the Cy Young Winner Expect in Free Agency?

The three-time Cy Young winner and two-time World Series champion is entering his age 40 season, and he’s pitching better than ever.

What a year it’s been for Justin Verlander.

After winning his second World Series with the Houston Astros, Verlander became the fourth-oldest player ever to win a Cy Young award. Just a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Verlander led the league in wins (18), ERA (1.75), and win percentage (.818). His ERA was the lowest ever by a pitcher during his age 39-or-older season. It was also the lowest by an AL pitcher in a full season since Pedro Martinez had a 1.74 ERA in 2000.

It was Verlander’s third time winning the prestigious award and his most impressive performance yet, considering he had thrown all of six innings in the last two seasons combined and entered the season at +2000 to win the Cy Young, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I will always kind of remember this Cy Young as looking back at the growth of me as a father and as a person and just also the rehab and all the hard work that went into the rehab,” Verlander said on a conference call. “Positive affirmations only take people so far, obviously, so to actually have it happen I think will just be something that I’ll always remember.”

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The positivity paid off. It was his second unanimous Cy Young, and he joins a list of 10 others who have won at least three Cy Young awards. That list: Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Not bad company.

Verlander has already opted out of his current contract, eschewing the $25 million salary he was set to make next year. Instead, he is expected to receive a similar deal to the three-year, $130 million contract Scherzer signed with the New York Mets last offseason — the highest average annual value of any contract in MLB history.

What Is Justin Verlander’s 2023 Market Value?

Spotrac determines its market value estimates based on a player’s age (especially in this case), contract status, and statistical production. It doesn’t take into account wins, awards, or playoff performance, but it’s still a useful measuring stick when comparing other players’ contracts.

Projecting Verlander’s next contract
  • By Spotrac’s estimates, Verlander’s next contract is estimated at two years and $90,672,206. That would rank 15th in MLB in terms of total value, trailing current teammate Lance McCullers.
  • His average annual salary is projected at $45,336,103, which would be the highest AAV in MLB history.
Comparable Pitchers by Value
PLAYERYEARSTOTAL VALUEAAVAGE SIGNED
Scherzer3$130M$43.3M37
C. Morton1$20M$20M37
A. Wainwright1$17.5M$17.5M40
Z. Greinke1$13M$13M38
AVERAGES1.5$45,125,000$30,083,33338
Comparable Pitchers by Stats
PLAYERERAWHIPK/9BB/9FIPWAR
Scherzer (’20-21)2.811.0112.12.43.26.5
Morton (’20-21)3.581.1010.22.63.33.4
Wainwright (’20-21)3.371.177.22.43.72.9
Greinke (’20-21)4.121.167.71.63.81.9
AVERAGE3.471.119.32.23.53.7
Verlander (’20-22)1.790.8210.01.54.16.9

This puts the Astros in a weird position. They already have $120 million in payroll committed for the 2023 season — the 11th-most in the Majors. There’s likely mutual interest in a reunion, but Houston might have a hard time bringing him back.

Verlander will probably net something similar to the 38-year-old Scherzer’s record-breaking deal, which was already a unique case — few pitchers can still perform like that at such an “old” age. That’s why the comparison makes the most sense — only Verlander actually might break that $43.3 million AAV, the way Spotrac projects.

We so often deem a player’s prime by their age, but Verlander is just another example of performance outweighing age in baseball. We’ll see if the free agent market agrees.

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