Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Lynn Henning break down the move already made and the moves to come for the Detroit Tigers at the MLB trade deadline.
Detroit — Justin Verlander still is capable of putting on a show, with a fastball that touches 99 and a curveball that snaps sharply, when it’s right. It’s not an every-start show, but when he throws like he did the other night in Kansas City, it remains compelling, and scouts will be in the audience right up until the July 31 deadline.
The conventional theory is, Verlander is too expensive to be traded, yet too legendary to be sold cheap. My theory is, it takes a legendary franchise to do the deal, and the one that makes perfect sense is the Yankees.
It’s about time for the Bombers to return to their historic nature and dive in, and they appear increasingly inclined to do so. And it’s about time the Tigers benefited from it. This is the trade GM Al Avila needs to pull off to officially close this era of Tigers baseball and launch a sensible rebuild.
There’s a symmetry here that’s largely symbolic, but also logical. Verlander sealed his big-game reputation by helping beat the Yankees in the playoffs in 2006, 2011 and 2012. His career ERA is better in the postseason (3.39) than the regular season (3.82) and he could revisit that spotlight in New York, where the Yankees desperately need starting pitching.
These are only murmurs now, because Verlander’s contract makes any trade complicated and risky, but not impossible. He has full-veto power, and has said repeatedly he won’t consider his options until Avila presents him with one. That’s pretty much the only stance Verlander’s camp can take at the moment, and his agent, Mark Pieper, didn’t return a call Thursday.
But Verlander pitched like a guy eager to be showcased Wednesday night, striking out eight and allowing two runs in seven innings against the Royals. He attacked the zone, lowered his pitch count and displayed some of his old unshaven sneer. His ERA is still bloated (4.54) but his fastball velocity is the highest in seven years, averaging 95.2 mph.
Verlander probably will make two more starts before the deadline, and you assume possible suitors —Yankees, Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers —are watching closely. If the chances of a trade aren’t great right now, let’s see how that changes if he pitches well again.
The Astros reportedly are interested in a Justin combo — Verlander and Wilson. Hmm. Would Avila be willing to send the coveted lefty reliever to a contender as long as the team takes Verlander as well? That would turn a tidy trade — Wilson should net a solid return of prospects — into a blockbuster.
And speaking of blockbusters, the Yankees are showing signs of reverting to their natural instinct. They trail the hated Red Sox by four games in the AL East, and signaled this week they’re going for it by trading prime prospects to the White Sox for relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and first baseman Todd Frazier.
Keeping an open mind
Would the Tigers have to pay a chunk of Verlander’s guaranteed money to facilitate a trade? Yep, and they should. Avila wouldn’t say how much, but again declared all options open.
“I’d say we’d be open-minded to almost anything, not only with Verlander but with all of our players,” Avila said on MLB Network radio Thursday. “If things fall into place and it makes sense, you move forward. And if they don’t, you stay the course. We as an organization would be extremely happy to keep Verlander here until the end of his career. We want him to walk into the Hall of Fame wearing a Tigers cap.”
Obviously, the more salary the Tigers are willing to eat, the better prospects they’d get in return. Verlander is owed $56 million the next two seasons and approximately $12 million the rest of this season — nearly $70 million total. Not many teams will take on that investment for a 34-year-old, but don’t get shortsighted here.
Just last season, Verlander narrowly lost the Cy Young to former teammate Rick Porcello. He’s healthy and determined and likely would waive his no-trade, having said he’s “too old for a rebuild.” During a recent interview, Verlander was asked if he’d welcome a move to a contender to invigorate him.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I give everything I’ve got every time I’m out there. I like pitching in big games, I always have, but there’s no extra motivation for me. …
“Obviously where there’s smoke, there’s fire. (A trade) is not completely out of the realm of possibility, obviously.”
The realm of possibility should grow as the deadline nears, and so should the Yankees’ temptation. The Dodgers always have been in the mix, and not just because Verlander and fiancee Kate Upton own a home in the Los Angeles area. The problem is, the Dodgers are so dominant — 31-4 since June 7 — they might not feel the urgency to deal. Same with the Astros, who lead the AL West by 151/2 games.
No such cushion for the Yankees, who recently lost starter Michael Pineda for the season with an elbow injury. They’re patching their shaky staff with aging CC Sabathia, struggling Masahiro Tanaka, youngsters Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, and no proven fifth starter.
They reportedly pursued Jose Quintana before the Cubs grabbed him from the White Sox. The other top starter available is Oakland’s Sonny Gray, and whichever contender doesn’t land him might come calling for Verlander.
After spending heavily for Robertson and Frazier, the Yankees are left with one major area of concern, and GM Brian Cashman sounds like he’s hunting for starting pitching.
“We are going to remain careful buyers,” Cashman told the New York media. “We want to maximize our present while protecting (our) future.”
Although Verlander’s salary is an issue for anyone, a team would have him under contract for at least two-and-a-half years. If you can handle the financial commitment — the Dodgers and Yankees are as rich as anyone — it’s better for the future than a rental player.
Verlander is the trade chip that will vex and test Avila most severely. Analysts expect Wilson to draw a favorable return. Setting aside the emotional aspect of trading his son, Avila should find a ready deal for catcher Alex Avila.
Other veteran players — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton — are virtually untradeable because of the size and length of their deals. And again, let’s drop the irrational notion of dealing Michael Fulmer, who can be as dominant as Verlander was for a decade.
The Verlander line is the fascinating one, the symbolic separation of eras. His bulldog performances against the Yankees were captivating, and once defined the Tigers’ identity.
To help the Tigers start over here, Verlander could start over there, a trade that should fit all agendas.