Justin Verlander is on pace for 14 wins; he was 13-12 last season. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit – I grew up reading everything I could about the Tigers – every game story, every feature, every one-sentence nugget.
Access, of course, was limited for the longest time. Having grown up in West Michigan, first in Paw Paw and then in Caledonia, there really was only the Grand Rapids Press. And, boy, I sure loved me some Danny Knobler copy.
Then came the Internet, in the 1990s.
And that opened me up to a whole new world of Tigers coverage, led by a guy named Tom Gage.
Now, full disclosure: Tom hates when I tell this story. He says it makes him feel old – never mind my hair is whiter than his! But, instantly, his style of story-telling fascinated me, and he quickly became my go-to Tigers beat writer. If he estimates he’s covered more than 5,000 Tigers ballgames, I probably could recite hundreds of them from my teen-age years.
Well, years later, in 2006, we would become colleagues, and a few years after that he would graciously welcome me to the Tigers coverage at The Detroit News. I’m proud to call him a friend, and a mentor.
That’s why Tuesday was such a special day. During the Baseball Writers Association of America meeting in Minneapolis, Tom was nominated for our profession’s most prestigious honor. Tom is one of three candidates for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, an honor that annually adds one man to the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The other two candidates, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe and the late Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have their stack of merits, too. No question.
But Tom’s my guy, as deserving as they come. They say there’s no cheering allowed in the press box. But, all due respect, I’m breaking that rule this one time.
Best of luck, pal. In the meantime, keep that copy coming!
Now, on to this week’s Tigers Mailbag.
Question: What are the chances the Tigers trade Justin Verlander and sign Max Scherzer? – Jason Oliver (twitter.com/bobalu71)
Answer: I actually get this question a lot, and it always makes me chuckle just a bit. No offense Jason, because you’re not the only one asking this, but it makes absolutely no sense.
I’m not saying the Tigers wouldn’t be open to dealing Verlander. There are few untouchables on this team, outside of Miguel Cabrera.
But the question I will ask you, and the others who are speculating about this: Who in their right mind would trade for Verlander right now?
Think about it for a second. Verlander is on the wrong side of 30, his fastball has dipped in velocity by several miles per hour over the last couple seasons, and he’s not looking anything like the pitcher who dominated baseball for the better part of eight seasons. Maybe it’s the lingering injury, maybe it’s not, but he just doesn’t put away hitters like he used to. And, guess what: Not a lick of this is a secret. Other teams are seeing all the same things that the Tigers are.
So, then, why would any team deal for Verlander now, when he appears on the decline – and yet is owed a boatload of money? People forget, that big contract extension he signed last spring, it does not even kick in until the 2015 season.
Verlander is making $20 million this season, then will get a pay bump to $28 million next year – and will continue to be paid $28 million a year through 2019.
I’m not saying Verlander can’t regain the form with which he became an annual Cy Young contender. I’m just saying there’s no team in baseball that’s willing to bet on it.
Verlander, for better or worse, will stay a Tiger – and, thus, Scherzer in all likelihood will not.
Question: The odds Tigers get anything out of Joel Hanrahan this year, or does it look like a lost gamble? – Clint Novak (twitter.com/cmupensfan)
Answer: Well, it certainly is a distinct possibly the signing of Hanrahan, the two-time All-Star closer with the Pirates, might not work out for the Tigers.
That’s not an indictment on the Tigers front office, mind you. There were scores of other ballclubs willing to take the same risk after seeing Hanrahan throw a side session this spring.
It just so happens he chose the Tigers, the team that needed bullpen help the most – and the team that gave Hanrahan the best chance to win a ring.
Now, it’s looking more and more like the Tigers will have to carry on without any expectations from Hanrahan.
When the Tigers signed the right-hander in May, more than a year after he had Tommy John surgery, it was expected he’d be in Detroit sometime in June. Now, it’s July, and the team has no clue when he’ll be here. He had a hamstring injury that slowed him, but the arm is still the major concern.
He has barely even faced live hitters yet, and is nowhere close to a rehab assignment.
That’s not to say Hanrahan, 32, won’t help. He could be up in August, or September, and open some eyes. But no longer can the Tigers count on that. In a way, it’s actually good that they know this now, before the July 31 trade deadline.
They already were looking for bullpen help; now, they are looking more even more bullpen help.
Meanwhile, all the Tigers could be out on Hanrahan is a million bucks, which is like you are me dropping a 20 in a home poker game. Bummer, but not the end of the world.
Question: Will J.D. Martinez be the Opening Day starter in right field next season? – Curtis (twitter.com/Curtos07)
Answer: Possibly. And possibly well beyond 2015.
That’s the beauty of the Martinez find for the Tigers. They not only struck gold on him this year – he’s still carrying an OPS of over 1.000, 55 games into the season – but they struck gold on a young player (26) who doesn’t have free-agent privileges until 2018.
Now, of course, a whole lot can happen, so anointing Martinez a Tigers starter for the next four years is definitely a bit premature.
He may cool off, although I’m betting nowhere near the extent of the Matt Tuiasosopos or Chris Sheltons. He could prove big-time trade bait, though not certainly not this year.
Remember, the Tigers don’t have a ton of position-player depth in the minor leagues, but where they do is in the outfield. Rajai Davis (no, he won’t be traded) and Andy Dirks are slotted in for the foreseeable future, as is Austin Jackson; Torii Hunter’s a goner after this year.
That would leave a spot for Martinez, but there is a guy in Double-A Erie named Steven Moya who will be pushing for work next spring. Tyler Collins remains intriguing, at Triple-A Toledo. And eventually, the red-hot Ezequiel Carrera is going to find his way to Detroit, and has the potential to be an epic acquisition along the lines of Martinez.
But given what Martinez brings to the table – power, in bunches – and seeing as the Tigers stand to possibly lose power in a potential Victor Martinez departure, and a certain Hunter departure, J.D. Martinez is a keeper.
At least, for a while.
Question: If the Tigers were to somehow trade for Troy Tulowitzki, what do you think they’d have to give up? Hypothetically, of course? – Tony Moonlight (twitter.com/TV_419)
Is that hypothetically, or psychedelically?
Would the Tigers love to have the Rockies star shortstop? Of course. They’d also love to have Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Don’t hold your breath on either one.
For starters, the Tigers aren’t looking for offense – not now. They very likely will address this in the offseason, but for now, they like the lineup they have – and why wouldn’t they? The lineup has accumulated some of the best numbers in baseball, across the board.
The much more immediate need – or much more cost-effective need – is bullpen help. That’s where GM Dave Dombrowski is focusing. If there’s a trick up his sleeve, maybe he goes an trades for a starting pitcher and moves Drew Smyly back to the bullpen.
But Tulowitzki? The Tigers already have two young shortstops they like, like a whole lot, in Eugenio Suarez and Jose Iglesias.
And Stanton? Do you really think the Marlins will ever trade with the Tigers again, after getting fleeced for Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez?
Plus, either one would cost the whole farm in a trade.
And the Tigers don’t so much have a farm as they do a petting zoo.
Question: What do you think Victor Martinez’s next contract will look like? – Andre Kovich (twitter.com/BigGulp422)
Answer: That’s a very good question, and a tough one to answer.
I will say this: Victor Martinez figures to be well in demand this offseason, given a) the monster year he’s having; b) his impeccable track record; and c) the lack of offense on the market this offseason.
The Tigers designated hitter’s last contract, which he is playing out this year, was for four years and $50 million. That proved quite a steal, especially considering the four-year, $56 million contract the White Sox gave Adam Dunn just a week after Martinez signed with the Tigers.
Heck, Martinez even missed a full year to injury, and his was a better deal than Dunn’s.
Of course, Martinez is 35 now, no longer in his prime – not that you’d know it. He’ll be 36 in December.
That means, the odds are his next contract should be shorter in years, though largest in annual value. Before the 2013 season, Red Sox DH David Ortiz re-upped for two years and $26 million. I’m going off that when I guess Martinez will get around three years and $40 million.
Just a guess.
We’ll know soon enough if it was an educated one.