Astros Pay Up to Keep Justin Verlander ($25M)

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One of the most intriguing names on the free agent market this off-season was two-time American League Cy Young Award winner and 2011 American League MVP Justin Verlander.

I say “was”, because on Wednesday the highly-coveted hurler made a decision. Despite turning down the $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Astros, the two sides worked out a one-year, $25 million deal that includes a $25 million player option for the 2023 season as well.

The Yankees, White Sox, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Braves and Tigers were all confirmed to have interest in his services, but ultimately Verlander opted to return to the Astros -- a team that he helped to capture a World Series title in 2017 -- and a team in which he already has a good working relationship with the coaching and training staffs as well as with catcher Martin Maldonado.

The soon-to-be 39-year-old right-hander and eight-time All-Star made just one start during the truncated 2020 season -- and missed the entire 2021 campaign -- after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s on record as saying that he wants to pitch until he’s 45-years-old though and has already shown the ability to adapt and reinvent himself on the mound. Verlander delivered two and a half of the finest seasons of his illustrious career after a deadline deal sent him to the Astros in 2017. In 74 career starts with the Astros he owns a ridiculous 2.45 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 640/85 K/BB ratio across 477 innings.

Yes, he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, though by the start of the 2022 season he’ll be a full 18 months removed from the procedure. He was close to returning at the end of the 2021 campaign and should have a fairly regular off-season for the most part. It’s also true that a part of his resurgence with the Astros was likely related to the spin rate revolution. There are concerns as to how the lack of a sticky substance will affect him in 2022 -- though there’s also a strong likelihood that as part of the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement, there will be some sort of pre-tacked baseball that’s put into play next season which would alleviate some of those concerns.

There’s also the fact that he’s going to be 39-years-old to begin the 2022 season. All of those concerns are fair and certainly warranted. However, this was a truly elite starting pitcher prior to the elbow injury -- a perennial first or second round selection in most fantasy drafts.

We’re in Mid-November -- and it’s super early in the 2022 draft season -- but the early results on his average draft position look staggeringly low given his ultimate upside. Through the first eight Draft Champions drafts in the NFBC, Verlander sports an ADP of 163 -- putting him in the 11th round of 15-team formats. His minimum pick has been 122 while his maximum has been 206. Make no mistake, this draft price is going to surge. As long as he’s healthy and shows any signs of his former self during Cactus League play, he’s going to be one of the biggest movers up draft boards. Certainly, by the time the third week of March rolls around, his ADP is going to be in the double digits. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him creep into the sixth round -- putting him somewhere between picks 76 and 90 in 15-teamers. While there’s risk, there looks to be an incredible buying opportunity here at the moment.

Robbie Ray and Corbin Burnes Win Cy Young Awards

While there were a couple of close races, the prohibitive betting favorites in each league -- Robbie Ray and Corbin Burnes -- were awarded the Cy Young Award in their respective leagues on Wednesday evening.

Ray was a near unanimous selection in the American League, garnering 29 of the 30 first place votes. Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole was the runner-up with White Sox hurler Lance Lynn finishing third in the voting. Ray, one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the entire 2021 season, delivered an absurd amount of value for the Blue Jays and fantasy owners alike. The 30-year-old hurler bet on himself by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Jays prior to the 2021 season and that has paid tremendous dividends. The left-hander went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.045 WHIP and 248/52 K/BB ratio over a league-leading 193 1/3 innings in his 32 starts. His ERA, WHIP, strikeout total and ERA+ (154) all paced the American League. He’s going to wind up getting an absolutely massive payday this winter as one of the top arms available in a market where most contenders are desperate for quality starting pitching.

On the National League side of the ledger, it was Corbin Burnes narrowly edging out Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler to take home the hardware. Burnes received just 12 out of a possible 30 first place votes, but still managed to eke out Wheeler who also received 12 first place votes. Dodgers hurler Max Scherzer finished third. The 27-year-old dazzled to the tune of a 2.43 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 234/34 K/BB ratio across 167 innings in his 28 starts. Burnes led the National League in ERA, ERA+ (176), FIP (1.63) HR/9 (0.4) and K/9 (12.6).

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MLB Quick Hits: Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported Wednesday that Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki will officially be posted by the Hiroshima Carp next week. Morosi notes that Suzuki will only have roughly one week to negotiate with big league clubs -- rather than the traditional 30-day window -- as the Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on December 1. The 27-year-old slashed a mighty .321/.435/.647 with 38 homers and nine stolen bases in 526 plate appearances with the Carp in 2021. … Brandon Belt accepted the Giants $18.4 million qualifying offer -- making him the only player of the 14 that received qualifying offers to ultimately accept. Chris Taylor, Raisel Iglesias, Trevor Story, Robbie Ray, Justin Verlander and Freddie Freeman each officially declined their qualifying offers on Wednesday. … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that Billy Eppler will be getting a four-year deal to become the Mets general manager. … The Mets released right-hander Arodys VizcainoMookie Betts -- who dealt with lingering hip pain down the stretch in 2021 -- is not expected to require surgery. … The Rays released Dietrich Enns, who has a deal in place with an unnamed team in Asia according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. … The Marlins hired Marcus Thames to be their next hitting coach. … Ryan Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan in D.C. that he plans on returning in 2022 for his age-37 season.