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Detroit Tigers: Why playing the long game with Justin Verlander is the best strategy

The Detroit Tigers' placement of Justin Verlander on waivers is largely symbolic. Here's what the team should actually do to unload him.


The Detroit Tigers placed righty ace and former AL MVP Justin Verlander on trade waivers this past Wednesday, but fans should not expect anything to come of the move.

Tigers management placed Verlander on waivers after failing to trade him by the July 31 deadline. Assuming he clears later today, Detroit will be able to start talking potential trades with MLB’s 29 other teams.

GM Al Avila will run his team’s roster as he sees fit, but he has been in this business for several years. Even he has to know the odds of finding a buyer for Verlander in 2017 are slim, especially with Anthony Fenech of The Detroit Free Press reporting that Detroit is only willing to cover Verlander’s remaining salary for this season and not the rest of his contract.

The Tigers need to play the long game if they want the most bang for their buck.

Verlander 2017

The 2017 season has been one to forget for Verlander, who turned 34 early in spring training. He has gone just 6-7 while posting an uncharacteristic 4.29 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. He has issued 60 walks in 130 innings of work after allowing just 57 in 227.2 innings last year.

Verlander’s strikeouts are also down, with just 126 on the season after leading the AL with 254 last year. His velocity has not really changed compared to last year, but his BABIP has jumped from .255 last year to .304 this year. His ground ball rate is at 33.9%, exactly five points below his career mark.

That said, one can see why the Tigers are demanding a high price for Verlander and not willing to cover his remaining salary. Deeper statistics suggest that his underachievement this year is largely due to bad luck compared to a decline in skills, so perhaps he could well on another team.

But with the money attached and Detroit holding firm on how much it will cover this year, other teams will balk at giving anything up for Verlander regardless of how strong a bounce-back candidate he may be. With a little over $9 million owed to him over the rest of this season and $56 million guaranteed over the next two years, teams in the market for pitching will want the Tigers to cover more.

Detroit’s ideal strategy

That said, Avila should hold off on dealing Justin Verlander now and instead wait until the Winter Meetings to test the waters again. This is a time of the offseason where general managers and sometimes owners alike are all in the same room together to talk business, which means some big trades can go down.

It was at last year’s Winter Meetings that the Boston Red Sox pulled off the blockbuster trade that netted them Chris Sale. In 2007, the Tigers themselves acquired Miguel Cabrera from the then-Florida Marlins.

This would be a prime opportunity for Avila to move Verlander. The Winter Meetings take place when free agency is still in its relatively early stages and teams hesitant to shell out the big bucks on the open market are looking to boost their roster by a trade.

Verlander is a perfect candidate for such a trade. Avila’s potential buying pool would be much deeper at this point and teams that need to add a starter could be more willing to meet his asking price. The money covered by Detroit could still be an issue, especially with Verlander approaching his 35th birthday, but at least the pieces the Tigers would receive could be more to management’s liking.

Al Avila needs to realize that trading Justin Verlander is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re at the stage of the 2017 season where he would basically be giving up his former ace and a six-time All-Star for next to nothing, whereas he could demand a lucrative prospect package come winter.

It’s just a matter of patience and if Avila and Tigers management show that in dealing Verlander, the payoff this winter could be tremendous.

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Josh Benjamin

Josh Benjamin is a born and bred New Yorker and an absolute baseball fanatic. He has witnessed four no-hitters at Yankee Stadium, three of which were memorable. Josh can be seen by the basketball court when baseball is not in session, though his love for the diamond will always be his first. He is incredibly excited to be part of the RealSport team!

  • aedgeworth

    Why playing the long game with Justin Verlander is not the best strategy.
    If the Tigers want to “unload” Verlander, they need to change their stance on not being willing to pay any of the rest of the final two years of his contract. If Verlander was 32 and pitching like he was a Cy Young candidate, he would have been traded already. He will be 35 next spring and coming off a sub-par season. Having all the GM’s together in the same room isn’t going to change those facts.

    There are two things to consider in trading him. First, he might never again be a top of the rotation starter, but Detroit will be paying him like he is. Do they really want to take a chance he will regain his old dominance?

    Secondly, they are really limiting themselves to two possible options. They are telling teams, either pay all of the remaining $56 million on his contract, or we will keep him and pay the full $56 million ourselves. Might there not be a better third option?

    If, for example, they would agree to pay $16 million of the remaining $56 million, that makes him a $20 million a year investment for two years for the other team. But, at the same time, the Tigers would cut $40 million off their payroll for the next two years, and they would get 2 or 3 good prospects back in return that they currently don’t have in their farm system.

    If I had to, I would pay $20 million of the remaining $56 million. That would make Verlander an $18 million a year investment for two years for a contending team. We still would cut $36 million off our payroll over the next two years, guarantee we wouldn’t have to pick up the $22 million option for 2020, and guarantee ourselves of possibly getting even better prospects in return.

    That $22 million option in 2020 should not be a problem. If Verlander is in the top 5 for the Cy Young voting in 2019, what contender wouldn’t consider him worth $22 million for 2020? Playing the long game and insisting the other teams pick up all of his remaining salary is not the best strategy

Detroit Tigers: Why playing the long game with Justin Verlander is the best strategy

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