The Dodgers are looking for another starting pitcher.
And on Monday, they talked with one of the biggest names on the market.
Justin Verlander met with the Dodgers, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, marking the team’s latest effort to woo the free-agent superstar and bolster its rotation.
With Walker Buehler likely to miss all of next season following Tommy John surgery, the starting rotation remains one of the Dodgers’ top priorities this winter.
"In an ideal world, we’re able to bring back Kersh,” Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, said of Clayton Kershaw at this month’s general manager meetings, “and then address another starter and just maintain some depth to help us navigate a season.”
Kershaw’s return is nearly complete, with the team and veteran left-hander needing only to finalize a new contract for the future Hall of Famer.
The Dodgers have plenty of young depth as well, with prospects Ryan Pepiot (who made nine appearances last season), Gavin Stone (the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year) and Bobby Miller (the club’s highest-ranked pitching prospect, according to MLB Pipeline) all expected to vie for opportunities next year.
But for now, one hole remains in the rotation. And with the winter meetings set to kick off next week, there are several options the team could pursue.
Verlander is one of the flashiest targets. Though the right-hander will be 40 years old next season and missed all of 2021 because of Tommy John surgery, he returned with a bang, going 18-4 for the Houston Astros with a major league-leading 1.75 earned-run average to earn his third Cy Young Award.
He could make sense for the Dodgers as he's likely to land the kind of short-term, high-annual-value contract the team has preferred to give out — MLB Trade Rumors projects Verlander to receive a three-year deal in the range of $120 million. He doesn’t have a qualifying offer attached to him either, meaning the Dodgers wouldn’t have to sacrifice a draft selection to sign him.
Most of all, Verlander would give the club the ace they will be missing in Buehler, fortifying a rotation that is expected to include Kershaw, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
There will be plenty of competition for Verlander’s signature. Even if he doesn’t return to the Astros — who have been reluctant to give him a three-year contract, according to the Houston Chronicle — the pitcher has garnered interest from the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.
All three are championship contenders capable of bidding for Verlander’s services and could offer a contract richer than the Dodgers are willing to.
If that proves to be the case, there are other alternatives for the Dodgers to consider.
Left-hander Carlos Rodón is a free agent after a strong season with the San Francisco Giants and has received interest from the Dodgers, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga is making the jump to North America and is another pitcher the Dodgers have discussed. General manager Brandon Gomes called Senga “really talented” when asked about the soon-to-be 30-year-old at the GM meetings.
Several other established starters are available in free agency, too, such as Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon and Taijuan Walker.
And then there is Jacob deGrom, the two-time Cy Young winner who is expected to command a massive deal despite his history of injuries.
“Really talented group,” Gomes said. “[For us], it's balancing short term versus long term and how that fits into what we want to do this year and beyond.”
Given their organizational depth, the Dodgers could opt for a different strategy. Among Pepiot, Stone, Miller and some of their other upper-level prospects, the Dodgers have a core of high-potential arms to build around.
Keeping a pathway open for each of those prospects to develop is important. It could lead the club to take a more conservative approach this winter: either seeking out a short-term, low-risk option to fill out the rotation, or exploring the trade market for extra depth.
It would be similar to what the Dodgers did before last season, when they signed Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney to one-year deals in hopes both veterans could find success under pitching coach Mark Prior and the rest of the staff.
Both did — and while Heaney remains a free agent, Anderson almost filled the void in the team’s rotation again.
At the start of free agency, the club extended a qualifying offer to the first-time All-Star, following his breakout campaign. Leading up to his Nov. 15 deadline to accept the offer, Anderson said he discussed longer contracts with the Dodgers as well.
Had Anderson and the team been able to work out a reunion, it might have cemented the rotation, giving them five veterans and a host of younger arms as backup options.
Alas, no deal came to fruition. At the last second, Anderson opted to sign a three-year, $39-million contract with the Angels. And two weeks later, the Dodgers are continuing to search for the final piece of their rotation.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.