Leyland: Verlander could finish career with Tigers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander was traded to the Astros from the Tigers last month.

Detroit — There wasn't a player more associated with Jim Leyland's tenure as Tigers manager than Justin Verlander.

Verlander was the only player on each of Leyland's eight Detroit teams.

And Leyland made darn sure of that from the get-go.

"I can remember this as if it was yesterday," Leyland said recently. "When I took the job, I asked Dave Dombrowski, 'Are you gonna let me take the guys I want to take?' And he said, 'Within reason.'

"About two weeks into spring training, I said, 'Well, I'm gonna take him.' He said, 'Well, we don't know yet, he's pretty young.' I said, 'Well, we know what's been going on. Let's try something different.'

"And the rest is history."

Verlander, the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, had made just two big-league starts prior to spring training 2006, Leyland's first year on the job.

Then, Verlander started the fifth game of the 2006 season, allowed no runs on two hits and — as Leyland said — the rest is history. Some pretty darn impressive history.

That said, Leyland didn't get overly sentimental over the trade of Verlander to the Houston Astros last month. It was time, for both parties. The Tigers are rebuilding, and Verlander deserves a shot at that elusive World Series ring.

He's certainly provided the boost Houston was looking for; in his four Astros starts, he's 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA. In 28 innings, he's allowed 11 hits. He's struck out 32 for the American League West Division champions.

Former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland speaks during the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

"I'm happy for him because I think it was the right move," Leyland said prior to his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. "I think it was the right move for the Tigers, I think it was the right move for him to accept it at this point.

"You know, sure, there's some sentimental, and everybody would like him to finish his career with the Tigers.

"But, who knows? Maybe he will."

A reunion down the road actually makes sense. Verlander, 34, is under contract for two more seasons, but as part of the trade to Houston, his vesting option for 2020 was voided, meaning he'll be a free agent.

And it's reasonable to believe the Tigers, with a blossoming farm system thanks to a couple recent impressive drafts and several July and August trades, could be ready to contend again by the time Verlander hits the market.

In Detroit, Verlander was rookie of the year in 2006, won the MVP and Cy Young awards in an unbelievable 2011 season, and narrowly missed winning two more Cy Young awards. He threw two no-hitters and won seven playoff games, including two dominant performances in do-or-die games. Verlander is second all-time in strikeouts by a Tiger with 2,373, and seventh all-time in wins with 183.