Two weeks ago, it was reported that while the Tigers were willing to discuss Justin Verlander in trades, they sought a significant prospect return and weren’t inclined to include any financial compensation to offset his sizable contract. Now, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that the Tigers have softened that stance and are willing to include “some” cash in a theoretical trade to help facilitate a deal. Verlander also has a full no-trade clause, though, so he’d need to green-light any deal the Tigers are interested in making, if such an opportunity even arises.
The 34-year-old Verlander is midway through the fifth season of a back-loaded seven-year, $180MM contract that calls for him to earn $28MM each year from now through 2019. Of this year’s $28MM, about $11.6MM remains, so adding that to the $56MM he’s owed in 2018-19 brings the total bill to just a shade under $68MM. Exactly what constitutes “some” cash for the Tigers isn’t clear, but given their desire to acquire top-shelf prospects, one can only imagine that the Tigers would need to pay off a significant amount of that remaining $68MM.
For all the name value that Verlander brings to the table, his 2017 performance has been underwhelming. His 4.4 BB/9 rate is the worst of his career, and his 8.4 K/9 rate is a notable departure from the 10.0 mark he posted in last year’s brilliant rebound campaign. Verlander’s chase rate, swinging-strike rate and contact rate are all among the worst of his career, and his 38.1 percent hard-contact rate represents a nearly 10 percent increase over his 2016 level. Beyond that, he’s averaging fewer than six innings per start for the first time as a Major Leaguer.
That’s a host of red flags, but to be fair to Verlander, his velocity is as strong as ever (95.1 mph average fastball), and his strikeout and home-run rates are still better than those of a league-average starter. There’s certainly value in the big righty, even if his 4.66 ERA isn’t anything to write home about. Verlander brings a wealth of postseason experience to the table, and given the proximity of last year’s dominance — 227 2/3 innings, 3.04 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 — one can hardly rule out a return to form.
But, this year’s plethora of troublesome indicators will also make teams reluctant to surrender a haul of prospects, even with a chunk of his salary included. FanRag’s Jon Heyman, for instance, recently reported that there’s been little to no serious interest in Verlander to this point given all of the hurdles in the way of a trade. One exec with another AL club told ESPN’s Buster Olney this weekend: “If you trade a player with that kind of history, you want something to show for it coming back. I’m not sure they can get that.”
Talk of a Verlander trade probably won’t let up even in the seemingly likely event that he remains with the Tigers beyond July 31, however. That huge financial commitment makes it likely that he’ll clear revocable trade waivers in August, at which point he’ll again be free to be traded to any club (so long as he waives his no-trade clause to approve the deal). And if no deal comes to fruition in August, then his name figures to be frequently mentioned this winter as well.