Had the Yankees been able to sign Justin Verlander in the offseason, think of the sliding-door possibility. It probably means that Nestor Cortes would have had to begin the season in the bullpen.
And the Yankees did try to sign the veteran star in what mostly was a quiet period for them prior to the MLB-imposed lockout. Hal Steinbrenner approved a significant one-year bid for Verlander, who had made one start between 2020-21 and underwent Tommy John surgery.
“Was there a possibility, yes,” Verlander said Thursday. “But close? No. They engaged toward the end. We weren’t really engaging early on [with the Yankees]. And then I don’t know what changed their mind, but they began to engage the last couple days. But they were never really in the ballpark contractually with a few other teams. So I will say possibility because you just never really know with the Yankees, they can just come with an offer you can’t refuse. So when they became engaged, it was, ‘OK, this can be a possibility.’ But for the other reasons, it just was never close in the end.”
Verlander said he was never even in the position where he felt he had to make a decision on an offer. Instead, he decided to return to the Astros on a one-year, $25 million pact with a vesting 2023 option for another $25 million. He will enter a start Friday night looking healthy and Verlander-esque with a 2.30 ERA. But it will be a start at Yankee Stadium.
Verlander was part of the 2017 Astros who beat the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to win the World Series. In the aftermath, it was discovered that the Astros used an illegal sign-stealing scam during that season for which they were punished by MLB. Since the operation was publicly revealed, the Astros did not play in The Bronx in 2020 and played in May last year before full crowds were allowed back due to COVID restrictions.
Thus, Verlander and his teammates will be playing before full New York crowds for the first time since the revelation of the illegalities. Verlander said he was “assuming it’s probably not” going to be ignored by the Yankee fans this weekend. He added, “I think the fans are not going to let you forget. Hopefully we let our game speak for itself. We’ve continued to be a great organization.”