Contenders Can Answer Dodgers 'Superteam' with August Justin Verlander Splash

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 9, 2017

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 04: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers prepares to throw a pitch to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the third inning during a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 4, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline passed more than a week ago, but the pitcher who might be the biggest difference-maker of all remains on the market.

He's healthy, he's strong and he's pitching as well as he has all season. Just last Friday, he punctuated a solid seven innings with a 99.8 mph fastball—on his 104th pitch of the night—for a strikeout that kept runners at second and third.

He's also cleared waivers, making him eligible to be traded during the season until August 31, as reported by Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press and confirmed by Bleacher Report sources.

Forget for a moment about Justin Verlander's age (34) and his contract (he makes $28 million this year, with the same salary due next year and the year after). Put him on any contending team, and that team has an improved chance of winning the World Series.

So why, when I contacted an American League executive who has followed the Verlander market, did he make it "one in 100" that the Detroit Tigers right-hander gets moved anywhere this month? Why are those chances going down, since the same executive said it was "three out of 10" when asked about Verlander when the July trading season began?

How could the chances have gotten worse, as Verlander's pitching has gotten better? In four starts since making a mechanical tweak in his delivery, Verlander has a 2.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts and six walks in 27 innings.

Oh, and by the way, that includes six shutout innings against the Houston Astros, the team that probably could use Verlander the most.

The Astros, according to sources, did show some interest in a Verlander deal, but were unwilling to surrender any of the prospects the Tigers wanted or to take on a significant amount of his remaining contract.

Verlander has full no-trade protection, but it's believed he would be open to a move to a contender.
Verlander has full no-trade protection, but it's believed he would be open to a move to a contender.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs could also use Verlander, even though their starting rotation has rebounded since the All-Star break. But after making trades for Jose Quintana (from the Chicago White Sox) and Justin Wilson and Alex Avila (from the Tigers), the Cubs have little of value left in their farm system. Even if they had interest, which so far they haven't, it's hard to see them being able to match the Tigers' price in prospects.

The Los Angeles Dodgers? Even before they got Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers, they'd told the Tigers Verlander's contract wouldn't fit into their future budget. The New York Yankees? Even before they got Sonny Gray from the Oakland A's, Verlander apparently wasn't on their radar.

The Milwaukee Brewers? That was never happening.

Remember, Verlander has full no-trade protection because he's been with the Tigers for more than 10 years. While he prefers not to talk about where he would go and where he wouldn't, it's believed he would accept a deal to a contending team in a large market. Chicago, Los Angeles and New York would certainly qualify. Houston? That's harder to say, but it doesn't really matter unless the Tigers and Astros could come a lot closer to agreeing on Verlander's value than they have so far.

The Tigers aren't going to move him simply for salary relief. Club owner Chris Ilitch has already made that call. When the July 31 deadline passed, general manager Al Avila said he and the team were fully prepared to keep Verlander until his contract runs out in 2019.

"He's an icon in Detroit," Avila said, according to MLB.com's Jason Beck. "He's an original Tiger. We drafted him, developed him, and we think he's going to be a future Hall of Famer. We're very happy to have him."

Always one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, Verlander can still reach 100 mph with his fastball.
Always one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, Verlander can still reach 100 mph with his fastball.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

All of that is fine, but logic suggests there's a deal out there that would benefit all parties. The Tigers would get a jump on their needed rebuild. Verlander would get a chance to chase team (World Series) and personal (200 wins and beyond) goals.

And a club that acquired him would get a pitcher who is still one of the best in the game, a guy who can still go get 100 mph when he needs it and throws a four-seam fastball that still has the highest spin rate (2,536 RPM, according to MLB.com's Statcast) among all starting pitchers.

It's the spin rate that gives a fastball the illusion of rising as it passes through the strike zone. It's a measure of what scouts call "late life," and it's something Verlander has always had. His curveball ranks high on the spin-rate chart, too, which leads to swings and misses and weak ground balls.

The stuff is still there, and given Verlander's drive and his health history (he's never had a serious arm injury), it's more than possible it will be there the next two years, too.

Is he worth $28 million a season, or anything close to that? Is he worth the type of prospects the Tigers continue to seek in a deal?

If he's the difference in winning a World Series, then yes he most definitely is.

Good luck finding another pitcher available this month who can do that.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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