This is the slowest time of the baseball offseason. Sure, the GM meetings just concluded in Arizona, but other than R.A. Dickey signing with the Braves, nothing of significance has happened.
So, when this came across the Internet on Thursday, it perked some folks up.
— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) November 10, 2016
Hello. Justin Verlander, once MLB’s most dominant pitcher, might be available on the trade market as the Tigers are looking to shed some of their nearly $200 million payroll. A team like the Tigers isn’t expected to operate above the luxury tax for many years, and with them missing the playoffs in 2016 — coupled with a poor farm system — this might be a great time for them to rebuild.
Let’s be really clear, however, this rumor is coming from business reporter in Detroit, not a beat or national writer. That isn’t to diminish his profession by any means, but rarely do trade rumors of this magnitude originate from someone outside the baseball world. But just for fun, and because there’s literally nothing else going on in baseball right now, let’s take a deeper look at this scenario anyway.
Verlander, 34 in February, had a resurgent 2016 season after having an injury-riddled 2015 season. He might very well win the American League Cy Young Award and was tied for the sixth-highest WAR of any pitcher in baseball.
In his prime, Verlander had a mid-90s fastball and two plus-plus off-speed pitches in a curveball and changeup. He has lost a couple ticks on his heater (93.5 MPH in 2016), but it was actually the highest average fastball velocity he’s had since 2013. His curveball and changeup have backed up a little, but he has picked up a slider and used it a lot more in recent years. Regardless, he still gets plenty of whiffs, and in fact, he established his career-high in swinging strike rate in 2016 (12 percent).
Verlander dealt with a sore back and triceps in 2015 that caused him to log just 133 1/3 innings — the lowest of his career (not counting his 11-inning debut in 2005). Aside from that, Verlander has been relatively healthy for his entire career, and he has averaged 214 innings per season since 2007 (his second full season at age 24). Seeing as the Dodgers’ team leader in innings pitched last season was Kenta Maeda, that’s an awfully enticing statistic from Verlander.
Still, I’ve come all this way and not yet mentioned the elephant in the room: Verlander’s contract. He is guaranteed $84 million over the next three seasons, and there’s also a $22 million vesting option for 2020 that would be guaranteed if he finishes in the Top 5 in 2019 Cy Young Award voting. That would be rather remarkable for a guy in his age-37 season, but it isn’t unheard of. The Dodgers are interested bringing back Rich Hill, and I predicted something in the neighborhood of three years and $60 million (after an option). But would spending an extra $24 million on Verlander for the same number of years (not including his vesting option) make more sense? That remains to be seen, but it also isn’t that simple.
Verlander has 10-5 rights, meaning he has been in the major leagues for 10 years and has spent at least five consecutive years with the same team, which gives him an automatic no-trade clause. The Tigers are the only organization he has ever known, so if he were to waive his no-trade clause, he might need some sort of guarantee — you know, something like having his vesting option guaranteed? Just thinking aloud.
Also, Verlander is the face of that organization. He’s still really good and better than any other pitcher on the free-agent market (if he is, indeed, on the market). So despite his contract and age, he’s going to cost some prospect/young player capital. I’m not talking about Joc Pederson or Julio Urias, but I’d say any prospect would be in play (would really hate to move Cody Bellinger, unless Miguel Cabrera were coming back … STOP IT DUSTIN), as would guys like Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood. Likewise, some other Detroit players could interest the Dodgers: Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez (more on him in a future post), and Justin Wilson … just to name a few. Perhaps there’s a true blockbuster to be made here, but those are extremely complicated and the Dodgers usually like to involve a third team when a trade gets too big in terms of players and/or money.
The safe money is on Verlander not going anywhere. He’s beloved in Detroit and he controls his own future. Besides, it isn’t even confirmed that the Tigers are looking to move him or relieve themselves of some salary (though, it makes sense).
This is barely a rumor right now, but seeing as there won’t be a ton of player movement until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is agreed upon by the player’s union and ownership, this will have to qualify as news.