Justin Verlander rumors: White Sox among interested teams

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Sox said to be among many teams interested in Verlander originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

With plenty of attention on how the Chicago White Sox could make room in their rotation for a possible reunion with Carlos Rodón, there probably weren't too many folks thinking about making room for a future Hall of Famer.

As baseball's Hot Stove gets switched on for the winter, rumors and reports involving free-agent stars are already littering the internet, and a hot topic of conversation Wednesday was Justin Verlander, the two-time Cy Young winner and all-around all-time great pitcher.

The White Sox were one of many teams mentioned by various national reporters as potential destinations for the 2017 World Series champ — who didn't pitch in 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery — USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeting that the South Siders were "showing strong interest."

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But there's a lot of teams in that group, the New York Post's Joel Sherman mentioning the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves listed in separate reports.

Fifteen to 20 teams were reported to have sent representatives to watch Verlander pitch at a recent showcase in Florida. And as of this writing, he'd made no decision on whether to accept or reject the qualifying offer extended by the Houston Astros, which would keep in Texas for the 2022 season at a salary of $18.4 million.

When it comes to the White Sox, as they would have to do to bring back Rodón, they would need to find a way to clear space in a rotation that's already got five arms lined up to be a part of things for 2022 if they're going to add Verlander or any other starting pitcher this winter. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Dallas Keuchel are all under contract, and the team has announced its plans to move Michael Kopech from the bullpen to the starting staff.

For plenty of fans still stinging from the way the 2021 postseason ended for the White Sox — who lost to Verlander's Astros in the American League Division Series — shaking things up would be a welcome move. Fan sentiment seems especially geared toward the White Sox finding a way to move on from Keuchel, who had a rough 2021 season after turning in a stellar 2020 in his first year on the South Side, though the veteran left-hander and the team have stated their opinions a bounce back is plenty realistic for 2022.

Verlander and Keuchel, of course, were teammates on the Astros team that won the World Series, and later found itself embroiled in a cheating scandal, in 2017.

But in addition to standing out among the supposedly large number of teams with interest — money is usually the best way to do that — there's more that goes into the thinking of any team considering chasing Verlander, who according to Sherman could prefer to head to a team with a Florida-based spring-training site.

While Verlander — who will be 39 years old come Opening Day 2022 — obviously has a much longer track record of success than Rodón, those bearish on the White Sox bringing the lefty back because of the late-season shoulder soreness he experienced in 2021 should note that Verlander's made all of one start in the last two seasons combined.

But there's no doubting the sort of positives that would entice any front office to bring Verlander aboard. He won the AL Cy Young Award in his most recent healthy season, leading baseball with 223 innings pitched and a tiny 0.803 WHIP in 2019, when he finished with a 2.58 ERA and a jaw-dropping 300 strikeouts while teaming with Gerrit Cole at the top of the Astros' rotation to come a win away from bringing a second championship to Houston in a three-year span.

Verlander was the prized trade-deadline acquisition in 2017 that helped push the Astros to that world championship. He's got winning experience and is one of the game's all-time greatest pitchers, something White Sox fans don't need to be reminded of after watching him pitch for an AL Central rival during his 13-season stay with the Detroit Tigers.

After boasting the Junior Circuit's top starting rotation in 2021, starting pitching doesn't exactly belong at the top of Rick Hahn's to-do list this offseason, with more glaring holes at second base and in the relief corps, no matter what your thoughts are on the starting staff in the wake of the quick postseason exit.

But if the White Sox are looking to bolster that unit in any fashion — and Verlander would count as significant fashion — it'll require work in clearing space. Of course, Verlander has long been the kind of pitcher worth making room for, and even after nearly two years away from a big league mound, he's the kind of arm that could get a team a lot closer to reaching a World Series goal.

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