The Cubs have made contact with the Tigers about veteran righty Justin Verlander and catcher Alex Avila, according to a report from MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter links). At this point, though, no real trade talks appear to have taken place.
While there’s little indication that anything is particularly likely to come together, it’s nevertheless notable to hear of the interest from the defending World Series champs. Chicago has struggled badly out of the gates, with its rotation representing a particular area of concern. And the team recently parted with left-handed-hitting backstop Miguel Montero, potentially making the similarly situated Avila an appealing target.
Of course, Verlander himself hasn’t exactly been pitching like an ace through the first half of the season. The Cubs sent a scout to watch his most recent outing, which represented a new low (no strikeouts, seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings) for the longtime ace. Through 98 frames on the year, Verlander now carries a 4.96 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9.
Never has Verlander allowed so many walks over a full season. And his swinging-strike rate (9.1%) and strikeout rate (8.4 K/9) are both down after a bounceback 2016 campaign. Still, Verlander was excellent last year and is throwing about as hard as ever (95.4 mph average fastball), so it’s not hard to see a team taking a chance. There are only two years left on his contract, though it also includes $56MM guaranteed after the conclusion of the current season. Word is he’s increasingly available, with Detroit potentially willing to keep some of the cash that’s still owed — though the veteran righty also has full veto power over any deals.
As for Avila, he has improved his stock as much as any player in baseball. Through 204 plate appearances this year, he’s mashing at a ridiculous .310/.431/.571 clip with 11 home runs and a 17.2% walk rate. While his .427 BABIP surely won’t last, Avila looks to be quite a useful piece as a left-handed-hitting catcher.
For the Cubs, young switch-hitting receiver Victor Caratini looks to be a long-term piece, but it seems the team may not quite be willing to rely on him too heavily in 2017. Avila, then, could take his place as a complement to second-year man Willson Contreras, the regular behind the dish. The youthful Contreras hasn’t been quite as impressive this year as last at the plate, perhaps increasing the team’s desire to pursue a quality veteran complement.