Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Justin Verlander dilemma

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was once a great pitcher. Sometimes he still is -- the key word being "sometimes".

Over halfway into the 2017 season, Verlander has had about 20 starts and has compiled a rather ho-hum 5-6 record.

It seems one game he'll throw a masterpiece. Then the next, get lit up like the proverbial pin ball machine.

Just last night against the Cleveland Indians JV had an excellent outing. Alas, he would get tagged with the loss nevertheless. Baseball can be cruel that way.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility the Tigers could ship him elsewhere to acquire a player or players, or perhaps some "prospects". Though Verlander has so far spent his entire major league career with Detroit, it's no longer a "lock" he's one of those rare "untouchable" players.

Thing is, what other team would want to take him on?

Sure, he's a horse and gobbles up a lot of innings. And the list of his past accomplishments is a long one. A former Cy Young winner, the American League MVP, and a couple no-hitters along the way are nothing to sneeze at. Plus he's racked up 178 wins along the way.

It's easy to think any number of teams would be happy to plug him into their starting rotation. But on further review, as they say, this might not necessarily be the case.

First, Verlander is now 34 years old. Not a geezer by any means, but likely on the back side of his bell curve. And does anybody really think he'll get better as he wades deeper into his 30s? It could happen, but the odds are highly against it.

Second, while he still has a decent fastball, for some reason he no longer even attempts to throw his once devastating split-finger pitch. True, he still has masterful control, striking out far more batters than giving up walks. But depending on what day it is, he can either mow down line-ups or get bombed as opposing batters rocket balls all over the park. As his manager Brad Ausmus wisely said recently -- major league hitters can hit velocity -- you've got to have the other stuff working or it likely spells trouble.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the matter of his (guaranteed) contract. Several years ago, while in his "prime", Verlander signed a long-term deal with the Tigers which would pay him roughly $27 million a year (on average) over its duration. This year he's making $28M.

Next year another $28M. Same for 2019. Then it slacks off to $22M in 2020, before it expires. No matter who he plays for -- or even if he doesn't play for whatever reason -- he'll get the dough.

Taking all that into consideration, which other general managers will surely do, perhaps Verlander isn't quite as attractive as some think.

Put another way, would you want to be the guy that committed around $90 million dollars of your owner's money (the rest of his contract, plus pro-rating the remainder of this season) for a 34 year old pitcher currently having a sub-.500 season whose performances go up and down like a sine wave?

It would be a risky gamble. If it worked out, you'd be looking good. If it went south, you might be looking for a job. Owners can have a way of getting a mite touchy over things like that.

If I was a betting man (actually I've been known to place a small wager here or there -- but not in this case), I'd put my money on JV sticking with the Tigers. It's probably where he wants to stay, the fans would be hugely disappointed to see him leave, and given the above reasons, yours truly can't see how the Tigers could get much back for him anyway. That's if there's any takers at all (see whopper contract again), which isn't a given.

Remember JV's much ballyhooed Fastball Flakes a few years back? I bought a box of those just to check them out. How good were they? Let's just say I didn't take a second spoonful. You've heard of a famous sugar-frosted brand that's been long advertised by a "tiger" as being "Grrrr-eat!!".  I found Tiger  Verlander's version to be "Grrrr-oss!!". But that's just me.

Fastball flakes indeed. Given his yo-yo performances of late, #35 for the Detroit Tigers just might be turning into one.

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