Tag: Justin Verlander

MLB Rumors: Hottest Trade Rumors Entering Winter Meetings 2016

The 2016 Major League Baseball winter meetings will run from Sunday through Thursday in National Harbor, Maryland, and trade buzz is picking up as general managers get ready to intensify discussions regarding some of the sport’s biggest names.

From All-Star starting pitchers to game-changing outfielders, there are plenty of enticing names circulating in advance of hot-stove season.

“It’s one of the worst free-agent groups I can remember,” a National League executive told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. “So I think people are saying, ‘Let’s go make a trade.'”

As the meetings get underway, here’s a rundown of the latest rumblings from across the sport. 


White Sox Seeking King’s Ransom for Sale

Chris Sale’s name has been popular in the rumor mill for some time, and the Chicago White Sox are reportedly seeking a major haul in exchange for the five-time All-Star.

“We’re hearing the same grumbling about the White Sox’s price tag this winter as we heard last July,” Stark reported. “One exec described them as asking for ‘the Shelby Miller deal,’ plus at least two additional pieces.”

As NESN’s Mike Cole pointed out, the Arizona Diamondbacks had to part with Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to snag Miller and Gabe Speier

However, the belief around baseball seems to be that the White Sox could lower their asking price to part ways with the ace, who’s under team control for three more years at a reasonable price of $39.5 million.  

“I think the price is going to come down…and I think they’re going to move him,” a National League executive told Stark. “In fact, I’d be surprised if they don’t.”

Considering Sale has never recorded an ERA above 3.50 and is coming off a season in which he led the AL in complete games (six) while notching 233 strikeouts and 45 walks, the White Sox should have no trouble finding a solid package of prospects to help stabilize their future.


Nationals Leading the Chase for McCutchen

An NL executive told Stark the Pittsburgh Pirates are “actively trying to move” outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and it appears as though there’s a front-runner for his services, according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden:

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi added that the Nationals remain in the lead for McCutchen, but he noted the Texas Rangers have also contacted the Pirates about a potential swap. 

The Nationals were seemingly a bat away from solidifying their status as World Series favorites a season ago, so snagging McCutchen—if he’s not too expensive—would be a no-brainer for the reigning NL East champions.

Not only is McCutchen a lifetime .292 hitter with a .381 on-base percentage, but he’s also hit more than 20 home runs every season dating back to 2011. Plus, he’s captured five All-Star berths during that six-season span.

Furthermore, McCutchen is on a team-friendly deal that would be manageable for the Nationals moving forward. The 30-year-old is due $14 million in 2017 with a club option worth $14.5 for 2018 before his contract expires.

If the Nationals are able to swing a deal for McCutchen, they would be able to shift some pieces around and field one of the league’s most dangerous lineups.

According to Stark, the hope is that McCutchen would play center field, while Trea Turner would shift over to shortstop.


Justin Verlander on the Block

At first glance, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander would seem like a tough sell on the trade market.

He’s owed $28 million in each of the next three seasons, and he owns a $22 million option for the 2020 season that vests if he finishes among the top five in Cy Young Award voting.

However, those financial considerations haven’t stopped competing clubs from doing their homework on a potential deal for the 2016 Cy Young runner-up.

“There’s a big difference between them and the White Sox,” an AL executive told Bleacher Report’s Danny Knobler. “The White Sox would have to get a ton to trade [Chris] Sale, and even then, their owner might not really want to do it. The Tigers are looking for value, but I think they would like to make a trade.”

With that said, there could be a hang-up even if the Tigers are able to hammer out the framework of a deal with a rival club.

Verlander’s contract contains a no-trade clause, so he would need to approve any deal before it’s signed, sealed and delivered.

From that standpoint, it’s no wonder an AL executive estimated the chances of Verlander being dealt hover around 20 percent, according to Knobler.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander Facing Uncertain Tigers Futures for 1st Time

They were two of the biggest stars in baseball, and the Detroit Tigers ensured they didn’t get away.

“I want to finish my career here,” Miguel Cabrera told reporters when he signed an eight-year, $248 million deal in the spring of 2014.

“Once we started contract talks, I wanted to stay in Detroit, and I wasn’t shy about saying that,” Justin Verlander told reporters after signing a seven-year, $180 million deal a year earlier. “I think it all worked out.”

Or did it?

The Tigers spent a decade winning around Cabrera and Verlander, teaming one of the game’s most feared hitters with one of the most dominant pitchers. But in the three years since Cabrera re-signed, they haven’t won a single postseason game. They’re now determined to reduce a payroll that approached $200 million in 2016 and to renew a talent base that had aged to the point they’ve been considered a franchise in decline.

During general manager Al Avila’s end-of-season press conference in October, he acknowledged changes were coming, telling reporters, “I can’t call it a rebuild because we haven’t broken anything down. So, no, I’m not comfortable with the word rebuild. I’ve read retool, I don’t know if that’s the right term. I don’t know if there’s a term for what I want to do here.”

And now the question of the winter, in Detroit and elsewhere, is whether the Tigers would trade one or both of their biggest stars.

“I think they would,” said one American League executive who has talked with the Tigers. “There’s a big difference between them and the White Sox. The White Sox would have to get a ton to trade [Chris] Sale, and even then, their owner might not really want to do it. The Tigers are looking for value, but I think they would like to make a trade.”

Before you start panicking (Tigers fans) or plotting ways to put Verlander in your rotation and Cabrera in your lineup (everyone else), understand that a willingness to make a deal won’t necessarily lead to one. Even a desire to make a deal wouldn’t mean Cabrera and Verlander are done in Detroit.

ESPN.com‘s Jim Bowden recently put the chances of a Verlander deal at 20 percent and the chances of a Cabrera trade at 10 percent.

“I’d say 20 percent might be about right for Verlander,” said an American League executive who has spoken with Tigers decision-makers. “But it’s probably 5 percent at best for Miguel.”

Verlander would be easier to trade, partly because everyone needs pitching and partly because just three years and $84 million remain guaranteed on his contract. Cabrera likely could only go to an American League team that can eventually use him as a designated hitter, and only to a team that can absorb the guaranteed seven years and $220 million he has left.

Even at those long odds, it’s a bit of a shock to see the Tigers reach this point.

They’ve been pushing for a World Series title since 2006, Jim Leyland’s first season with the club and the year Verlander was the American League Rookie of the Year. Cabrera arrived after 2007 in a blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins, and the Tigers won four straight American League Central titles from 2011 to 2014, advancing to the ALCS three straight years and to the World Series in 2012.

Verlander was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. Cabrera won the same award the next two years.

The Tigers were big spenders and big winners, and if they had to go over budget to get or keep a star, there was always a decent chance owner Mike Ilitch would OK it (or even push to make the deal himself). Ilitch was super competitive—everyone knew—and he was also aging and running out of time to win the World Series he craved.

He’s 87 now, and he still hasn’t added a World Series title to the four Stanley Cups he won with the Detroit Red Wings. But rather than chase this winter’s free-agent stars, as Ilitch did when the Tigers signed Justin Upton in an ill-advised deal last January, he and the Tigers have chosen a different path.

The payroll, they say, is going down. They say it doesn’t need to drop too much, at least not right away. They definitely want to drop below the threshold for paying luxury tax, whatever that turns out to be once Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

They don’t want to tear it all down and start over, as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs did successfully and as other teams have copied. They want to keep competing as they build for the future, as the New York Yankees are trying to do.

The Tigers have already traded outfielder Cameron Maybin, who had a $9 million option for 2017. They’ve discussed deals for second baseman Ian Kinsler ($11 million in 2017), outfielder J.D. Martinez ($11.75 million) and designated hitter Victor Martinez ($18 million), officials say.

But none of those would be the franchise-altering trade that a Cabrera or Verlander deal would be.

None of them would change the Tigers’ future, short term and long term, the way moving one or both superstars could.

No other players could bring as much back in return. No other players could open up future budgets as much.

Cabrera’s contract pays him $28 million in 2017, $30 million a year for the four years after that, and $32 million in 2022 and 2023, when he’ll turn 40 (with two options and an $8 million buyout). Verlander also makes $28 million next year, with two more years at $28 million and a vesting-option year at $22 million after that.

The big money limits the potential suitors, but baseball officials surveyed by Bleacher Report agreed both players remain tradable this winter. That might not be true if the Tigers wait another year, with Cabrera (34 in April) and Verlander (34 in February) getting older at a time baseball as a whole is trending younger.

For teams looking for immediate help, age is less of an issue than performance. Verlander finished a close second to ex-teammate Rick Porcello in the AL Cy Young vote, his fifth top-five finish. Cabrera finished ninth in Most Valuable Player voting, the seventh time in the last eight years he has been in the top 10.

Still, only a few teams can afford to add a player making $28 million. The officials agreed a Cabrera trade would be tougher than one for Verlander, because it’s hard to see a National League team trading for someone who will likely need to become a designated hitter before his contract runs out.

Beyond that, both Verlander and Cabrera have full no-trade protection, so either would need to sign off on any possible move. That may not be the biggest obstacle, though, given that any team which could afford one of them would likely have a real chance of winning a World Series.

The other question rival officials ask is whether the Tigers would be better off keeping both of their stars. The long-term financial impact could be bad, but the Tigers might have a better chance of winning in 2017 with both of them than they would anytime in the next five to six years if they trade them.

“That [American League Central] division is winnable,” said one National League scout who follows it closely.

A Central Division team has played in the World Series each of the last three years and four of the last five, but none of the teams have the financial firepower present in baseball’s other five divisions. The Tigers have had the division’s highest payroll eight of the last nine years (2011 is the exception, with both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins spending more).

Without all of that money to spend, the Tigers would have had to trade Cabrera and Verlander long before this or watch them leave as free agents. As it was, they kept both stars, giving them deals that seemed to make them Tigers for life.

It still could turn out that way. Cabrera and/or Verlander could enforce their no-trade rights and decide to stay. The Tigers could decide the offers they get aren’t strong enough to justify making a trade.

But keeping both stars now could well mean living with both of those big contracts all the way to the end. As it stands now, the Tigers have five players signed for $122.125 million in 2018 (Cabrera, Verlander, Martinez, Upton and Jordan Zimmermann) and four players signed for $105.125 million in 2019 (all but Martinez).

Even if those players all perform at high levels, it will be increasingly tough to build a winner around them if the overall payroll is going to drop.

“It’s going to collapse on itself,” the National League scout said.

The Tigers’ hope is they can keep that from happening by acting now. The hope is they haven’t waited too long already.

Most teams want to keep their stars right to the end, but few actually do. Of the 34 players on the Hall of Fame ballot announced last week, just two (Jorge Posada and Edgar Martinez) played their entire careers for the teams that originally signed them.

Verlander twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he would someday be able to say the same thing. Cabrera, traded from the Marlins to the Tigers when he was 24, twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he wouldn’t go anywhere else.

They committed to the Tigers, and the Tigers committed to them.

Whether they end up moving or not, this is the winter when commitment gets tested.


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

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Justin Verlander Trade Would Propel Red Sox to the Top of AL Hierarchy

Justin Verlander and Boston Red Sox fans may not be on the best terms right now. After Verlander lost the American League Cy Young Award to Boston sinkerballer Rick Porcello, Verlander’s fiancee, Kate Upton, voiced her displeasure via Twitter [warning: NSFW language].

While Upton’s and, subsequently, Verlander’s beef was mostly with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters, Porcello and Sox nation were unavoidably swept up in the controversy. 

Here’s something that would surely quash the issue: Verlander suiting up for the Red Sox next season.

It’s only speculation at this point. We know, however, that the Detroit Tigers are “open-minded” about trading veterans to shed payroll, as general manager Al Avila said on MLB Now (via MLB.com). 

“I’ve talked to all the guys,” Avila said. “[Miguel] Cabrera and Verlander and [Ian] Kinsler and guys like that just to let them know, this is just the way it is. It’s part of the business. But not to worry about anything unless I call them.”

Translating from GM speak: The Tigers are open for business.

Verlander should have multiple suitors. The pool of free-agent starting pitchers is comically shallow. And the 33-year-old right-hander is coming off an excellent season that saw him post a 3.04 ERA in 227.2 innings with an AL-leading 254 strikeouts. 

He’s owed $28 million annually through 2019 with a $22 million vesting option for 2020, so he isn’t exactly cheap. Detroit won’t be willing to give him away, either. The Tigers will surely expect some legitimate young talent in return.

Enter Boston, which has a robust payroll, a deep minor league system and ties to Verlander via its front office.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was at the helm in Detroit when the Tigers drafted Verlander in 2004 and was also there in 2013 when Verlander signed a five-year extension.

At the time, Dombrowski praised Verlander’s stuff and durability and labeled him “one of the premier pitchers in baseball,” per MLB.com’s Jason Beck

Verlander’s ERA ballooned to 4.54 in 2014, and he threw a career-low 133.1 innings while battling a triceps injury in 2015.

His 2016 bounce-back, though, should ease concerns about a decline. We’re talking about a six-time All-Star who won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011.

Velocity isn’t everything, but Verlander’s average fastball sat at 93.7 mph last season, his highest mark since 2013.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe listed the Red Sox as a possible landing spot for both Verlander and Cabrera. Boston has a David Ortiz-sized hole in the middle of its lineup, so Cabrera makes some sense.

The Red Sox could find an Ortiz proxy on the free-agent market, however. Edwin Encarnacion seems like a fit. Or there’s reigning MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo. 

To get a top-shelf starting pitcher this winter, it’s the trade route or bust.

Boston’s rotation is headlined by Porcello and left-hander David Price.

Porcello posted Cy Young-caliber numbers (sorry, Kate), going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. Price was a mixed bag after signing a seven-year, $217 million contract. He led MLB with 230 innings and struck out 228, but he also paced baseball with 227 hits allowed and surrendered a career-high 30 homers.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright posted a 2.86 first-half ERA but landed on the disabled list in September with shoulder issues and missed the remainder of the season and the division series.

Young left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez (4.71 ERA in 107 innings in 2016), Henry Owens (5.19 ERA in 16 career big league starts) and 32-year-old right-hander Clay Buchholz (4.78 ERA in 139.1 innings in 2016) round out the crop of possible starters. 

If the Red Sox add a bat to an enviable offensive core that includes 24-year-old AL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts and All-Stars Xander Bogaerts (age 24) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (age 26), the current starting rotation should keep them competitive. 

With Verlander, though, Boston would vault into the firmament of surefire championship contenders. Here, let’s stack Verlander, Porcello and Price’s 2016 stats next to each other:

That’s three of the AL’s top seven starting pitchers by WAR, to use a simple bit of statistical shorthand. If Price bounced back to the form that made him the Cy Young runner-up in 2015 or that won him the prize in 2012, look out.

It’s unclear exactly what Boston would have to part with from a farm system Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 4 in the game. If the Sox were willing to eat all or most of Verlander’s salary, they should be able to keep untouchable names like infielder Yoan Moncada and outfielder Andrew Benintendi off the negotiating table.

Boston could also pursue another ace, like the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale, who is six years younger than Verlander and locked into a more affordable contract. The asking price for Sale, though, might include the Sox’s top prospects as a starting point.

Oh, and consider this: Verlander owns a 3.39 ERA in 98.1 postseason innings and has a well-earned reputation as a big-game pitcher. The same can’t be said for Porcello (5.66 career postseason ERA) or Price (5.54 career postseason ERA).

The Cleveland Indians are the defending AL champs until further notice. The Texas Rangers and retooling Houston Astros will make noise out West. The East, too, is competitive, with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays coming off wild-card berths and the suddenly nimble New York Yankees laden with young talent. 

Boston, however, can gain separation. Yes, the Red Sox have shown indications of playing it safe this offseason, as I recently notedLanding Verlander may prove too tempting to resist, however.

At the very least, it would put those angry tweets squarely in the rear view.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Justin Verlander Defends Kate Upton’s Tweets Regarding MLB Cy Young Award Loss

Kate Upton, the fiancee of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, expressed her frustration with this year’s American League Cy Young voting Wednesday when it was announced Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello won the award despite receiving fewer first-place votes.  

In a series of NSFW tweets, Upton had some pointed words for baseball writers who failed to include Verlander on their ballots:

Hey @MLB I thought I was the only person allowed to f–k @JustinVerlander ?! What 2 writers didn’t have him on their ballot? He had the majority of 1st place votes and 2 writers didn’t have him on their ballots?!! can you pick more out of touch people to vote?@MLB. Sorry Rick but you didn’t get any 1st place votes? you didn’t win. #ByeFelicia@MLB keep up with the times and fire those writers

On Thursday, Verlander explained the reasons behind Upton’s outrage in a Twitter conversation with the New York Daily News‘ Mark Feinsand: 

Verlander finished the 2016 season 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, league-best 1.001 WHIP and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Porcello, meanwhile, went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a league-best ratio of 5.91 strikeouts to one walk.

According to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the two voters who failed to include Verlander on their ballots were Fred Goodall of the Associated Press and Bill Chastain of MLB.com. 

Chastain admitted in a conversation with Feinsand that he sent his ballot in a week before the regular season ended, and he disclosed that his choice for first place was between Porcello and Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Over the final week of the season, Verlander pitched 14.2 innings and allowed one earned run. In his lone start during that same stretch, Porcello allowed eight hits and three earned runs in a 5-3 Red Sox win over the Toronto Blue Jays

“I feel bad that people are upset about this; I did the best I could,” Chastain said. “I went around the clubhouse, I asked guys. I agonized over this. The biggest thing for me was between (Baltimore closer Zach) Britton and Porcello.”

Tampa Bay Times writer and chairman of the BBWAA’s Tampa Bay chapter Marc Topkin noted neither Chastain nor Goodall voted with malicious intent.

“Both Bill and Fred are longtime veteran, experienced baseball writers and certainly have the ability to make what they felt were the proper decisions,” he said, per Feinsand. 

While the 33-year-old Verlander may have come up short in the voting, his production throughout the second half of the season indicated he should remain effective well into his mid-30s. 

After he went 8-6 before the All-Star break, Verlander posted an 8-3 record, 1.96 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 24 walks in 110.1 innings after the break. 

Based on those stellar stats, Verlander should be in the Cy Young conversation for a couple of more seasons as he seeks to maintain his status as one of the AL’s premier pitchers. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise. 

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Kate Upton Comments on Fiance Justin Verlander Not Winning MLB Cy Young Award

Major League Baseball announced Boston Red Sox ace Rick Porcello won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday, which left Detroit Tigers hurler Justin Verlander in second place.

His fiancee, supermodel Kate Upton, was not pleased with the results (Warning: NSFW language):

As Upton mentioned, Verlander finished in second place despite garnering the most first-place votes. She was wrong, however, about Porcello’s failing to receive any first-place votes, as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America shared:

Upton wasn’t the only one upset with the results. Verlander’s younger brother, Ben, weighed in on the Cy Young voting:

Verlander has a case that extends beyond the first-place votes he received. He finished with a slightly better WHIP than Porcello (1.00 to 1.01) and threw more innings (227.2 to 223.0) in the process. He also posted a better ERA and comparable numbers to Porcello and fellow finalist Corey Kluber in other categories, per FanGraphs:

However, the numbers were close across the board, and Porcello enjoyed advantages in some of the statistics as well. His Red Sox also won the American League East at 93-69, while Verlander’s Tigers were left on the outside of the playoffs looking in at 86-75.

While team performance isn’t necessarily a final determinant of individual awards, that Porcello’s team made the playoffs likely helped his cause.

The Cy Young results were more personal to Upton given her relationship with Verlander, but this isn’t the first topic from the sports world she discussed on her Twitter page. For example, she was not pleased when Arian Foster and other NFL players knelt during the national anthem earlier this year, either:

Upton isn’t happy her fiance missed out on the Cy Young, but she can take solace in knowing he already has the award on his resume. Verlander won the 2011 Cy Young the same year he captured the AL MVP when he won the pitching version of the Triple Crown by leading the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250).

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Justin Verlander’s Cy Young-Level 2016 Gives Tigers Golden Trade Opportunity

There’s a one-in-three chance Justin Verlander will win the American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday. Two things will happen if he does.

One: A trophy case that already features a Cy Young alongside a Rookie of the Year Award and a Most Valuable Player Award will look even better. Two: His trade value, which skyrocketed in 2016, will inch even higher.

Thing No. 2 is relevant in light of current events in the Detroit Tigers front office. Following the Tigers’ second straight postseasonless campaign, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney warned in October that Detroit would be in a trading mood this winter.

In recent days, general manager Al Avila has been busy saying “Yup” to every news outlet within earshot.

“Our organization has been working well over its means for several years, for our market size, if you compare our payroll with the rest of baseball,” Avila told ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, referencing a payroll that has ballooned from under $100 million in 2007 to $198.6 million on Opening Day in 2016.

“It’s gotten to the point, quite frankly, where it can’t continue to go up and up and up,” Avila continued. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough?’ We have to start making some adjustments. Whether they’re subtle or bigger depends on what teams out there are looking for and how some of our guys may fit them.”

The road ahead for the Tigers involves getting younger and cheaper. They can’t do this by waiting on young talent that’s already in place. The Tigers graduated AL Rookie of the Year finalist Michael Fulmer to the majors in 2016, but he was the lone standout in a farm system that Baseball America had ranked No. 26 in MLB going into the year.

Detroit’s first step forward must involve trimming some old and expensive fat. Hence why every big-money Tigers star is rumored to be available, though Verlander and Miguel Cabrera carry the most intrigue.

One is a two-time MVP and lifetime .321 hitter who still has a strong case for the Best Hitter in Baseball crown. The other is a decorated ace who put two injury-marred seasons in 2014 and 2015 in the rearview mirror with a return to form in 2016. Verlander put up a 3.04 ERA in 227.2 innings and led the AL in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.00).

When it comes to trade value, however, one of these things is not like the other.

Cabrera is awfully good, but he’s also 33 years old with seven years and $220 million remaining on his contract. In early November, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs found that Cabrera isn’t likely to offer any excess value beyond that. Detroit may therefore have to eat some of his contract in order to flip him for young talent.

Verlander is in a different boat. He’s owed a relatively reasonable $84 million over the next three seasons, and Edwards projected him to provide excess value on top of that. Hypothetically, the Tigers should be able to move his entire contract and get some young talent in return.

In a normal offseason, the availability of aces on the open market would be a threat to push back against Verlander’s trade value.

But this is no normal offseason. The best free-agent starting pitcher is Rich Hill, who is equal parts talented and fragile. After him, it’s a dark and decrepit landscape that, thanks to a surprise twist, doesn’t even include Jeremy Hellickson anymore, with the Philadelphia Phillies’ announcement he accepted their qualifying offer.

As such, the only force that could lower Verlander’s trade value is pessimism about whether he has more seasons like 2016 in him. He is also 33, after all. One great season at this point in his career arguably wasn’t enough to undo the disappointment of the prior two seasons, in which he had a 4.08 ERA in 52 starts.

Or, interested parties will be optimistic—as they should be in this case.

Verlander was successful in 2016 because he was overpowering. He went from striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings in 2014-15 to striking out 10.0 batters per nine innings in 2016.

What’s more, his average fastball was 93.5 mph—short of his 95.6 mph peak in 2009, sure, but better than his 92.3 mph average in 2014 and his 92.8 mph average in 2015.

And per Brooks Baseball, the revival of Verlander’s velocity started strong and got even better throughout the year:

After he struggled to get back to full strength in 2014 following offseason core muscle surgery and then battled an oblique injury at the outset of 2015, this was a good sign that Verlander’s previous issues had less to do with age and more to do with physical ailments that are now behind him.

“All of a sudden, it becomes fun again,” the 6’5″ right-hander told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports in September. “I was allowed to compete with the other team as opposed to competing against myself.”

Of course, optimism about Verlander’s velocity can only be so ironclad. At his age, the possibility that it could decline again can’t be ignored.

But even if it does, two things could ensure his dominance doesn’t also diminish: spin and location.

According to Baseball Savant, Verlander threw a higher percentage of high fastballs in 2016 than he had since 2009. Batters hit just .145 against them. That’s related to how, in addition to improved velocity, his fastball had the highest spin rate of any four-seamer thrown by all pitchers with at least 2,000 pitches.

However, this was only Verlander doubling down on a trend he started with inferior velocity the previous year. He held hitters to a .146 average on high heat in 2015, with one factor being that there was little difference in the spin rates of Verlander’s 2016 fastball and his 2015 fastball:

  • 2016: 2,565 RPM
  • 2015: 2,500 RPM

In January, Mike Petriello of MLB.com noted that Verlander wasn’t the first pitcher to succeed with high-spin heaters up in the zone. That’s been Chris Young’s weapon of choice his whole career. And no matter how much Verlander’s velocity may decline over the next three years, it’s not likely to get to a point where it matches Young’s mid- to high 80s “heat.”

Thus, Verlander’s 2016 wasn’t just a return to form. It was a return to form with a good fail-safe in the event he can’t maintain that form going forward.

This is not to characterize him as the only Detroit star who’s worth monitoring as the rumor mill continues to go round and round. Cabrera shouldn’t be ignored, and Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez may be most likely to be moved.

But in Verlander, the Tigers have just the thing that can serve both their needs and the market’s needs: a big-name ace who’s worth a high asking price.

Let the bidding begin.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Payroll and contract info courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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Justin Verlander Trade Rumors: Latest News, Speculation on Tigers SP

The Detroit Tigers have reportedly received trade inquiries about starting pitcher Justin Verlander as they look to shed payroll before the 2017 season.

Continue for updates.

Latest on Verlander’s Trade Availability

Tuesday, Nov. 8

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported Monday that the Tigers are “willing to discuss just about anything in trades,” including the possibility of moving Verlander, a longtime stalwart in the team’s rotation.

Verlander is coming off his best season in the past four years for the Tigers. He posted a 3.04 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while striking out 254 batters in 227.2 innings across 34 starts. The increased strikeout rate was a welcome sign after it had dipped over the previous two campaigns.

His availability comes as Detroit looks to shave around $27 million off its payroll before next year in order to get below the luxury-tax threshold, according to Heyman. The right-hander is scheduled to make $28 million each of the next three seasons, per Spotrac.

Two years ago, after Verlander finished 2014 with a 4.54 ERA, it would have been impossible to move that monster contract. Now his resurgent performance combined with a weak group of starting pitchers in free agency this winter could make him a popular trade target.

In September, the 33-year-old six-time All-Star discussed how it felt to pitch up to his capabilities again with Brendan Savage of MLive.com.

“I mean, it feels good to pitch well,” Verlander said. “I don’t like to compare anything to the past. I’m just pitching to the best of my ability now. I’m just trying to maintain momentum, go out there every five days, and continue to pitch well.”

Ultimately, trading a player with Verlander’s contract is never straightforward. Any interested team will likely expect the Tigers to take a bad contract in return, eat some of the remaining money or accept a bargain-basement package for him.

None of those alternatives are ideal, especially the latter, which could get the team under the luxury tax quickly, but would be hard to explain to a fanbase. Tigers fans have followed the veteran starter every step of the way since he joined the club in 2005.

In turn, Detroit might be best off waiting until closer to spring training when a contending team gets more desperate to fill a key void in their rotation to get serious about a Verlander trade. It should have a little more leverage in trade talks by that point.


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Cabrera, Verlander Add New Headliners to MLB Rumor Mill as Tigers Eye Rebuild

Don’t be fooled by the optics of the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 campaign, one that saw the organization miss the playoffs by a mere 2.5 games.

They’re stuck in one of the worse places in today’s win-or-rebuild world of baseball.

The Tigers own MLB’s fourth-most expensive roster, but it’s one that isn’t talented enough to be considered a serious World Series contender. While every team seems to be trying to get younger, Detroit’s key players are aging.

So it came as no surprise Tuesday when general manager Al Avila revealed the organization will pivot.

Avila told Jason Beck of MLB.com:

We have to be open-minded to anything. That doesn’t mean that we’re dangling Player A out there and seeing what happens, but it does mean that in our conversations with other clubs, we will be open-minded, and if somebody has interest in a certain player, we’ll take a look at it. If it makes sense for the Detroit Tigers present and future, then we certainly will consider things that we feel will make us better.

Read: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and other Detroit veterans could be traded this offseason.


What was most suggestive of the fact that two Tigers cornerstones and a slew of other high-priced players could move was that Avila said “this organization has been working way above its means as far as payroll for many, many years.”

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney confirmed the notion Saturday, writing: “But the message being received from the rest of the industry is a dramatic shift for one of baseball’s oldest franchises: They will listen to trade offers on everybody. Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander. Ian Kinsler. Anybody.”

Verlander and Cabrera, both 33, are two of four Detroit players above 30 years old who are making at least $18 million per year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

But they can also still make a major impact on contending rosters.

Given that baseball’s 2017 free-agent class is drier than August in Death Valley, this could be the ideal time to trade them, too.

First baseman Edwin Encarnacion and outfielders Jose Bautista, Ian Desmond and potentially Yoenis Cespedes are among the cream of this year’s free-agent class in terms of high-impact position players. The market for starting pitchers is without a front-line starter like last year’s class, which included David Price and Zack Greinke, their performances this season notwithstanding.

So teams may forgo spending money in free agency and instead try to add via the trade market.

While Verlander may not be the top-end ace he was earlier this decade, his 3.04 ERA still suggests he has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could make an impact on a playoff roster.

The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, who were swept out of the playoffs this year, saw the Cleveland Indians cruise to the World Series with outstanding starting pitching, which each of them lacked all season.

Both the Red Sox and Rangers are loaded with young talent, which they could send to the Tigers to bolster their respective rotations.

Cabrera still swings an All-Star bat—he hit .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI—and could become the centerpiece of a World Series hopeful’s lineup.

And immediate thoughts gravitate to a particular AL playoff team that lost a prolific slugger to retirement. Ahem, the Red Sox and David Ortiz.

In fact, Cabrera has better offensive numbers than any potential free agent.

But it seems in their current spots on the Tigers’ hole-filled roster, Verlander and Cabrera are playing useless roles. They’re like unused chops at a high-end steakhouse, thrown away when the restaurant closes.

Detroit appears as if it’ll be closing for business every October.

Without giving them the opportunity to impact a postseason, Detroit is wasting what few prime years Verlander and Cabrera have remaining.

The Tigers seem pointed toward a rebuild. Or a retooling. Or a reworking. Or whichever way the organization wants to spin what is to come.

Regardless, this much is clear: Detroit may not contend for a title the next few seasons.

By then, Verlander and Cabrera will be in their twilight years. And though they still may be effective, the Tigers can’t bank on the duo’s impacting a long-term rebuild.

Simply, the dearth of high-impact free agents could create the highest possible demand for both players. It may be the perfect time to deal them, and it could net the Tigers the highest possible return in younger prospects.

And that is Avila’s stated goal: to get “younger and leaner.”

So as the general manager opens his mind to all possibilities, it might be time to open the phone lines, too. Because Detroit is certain to get calls on Verlander and Cabrera.

The demand for them may never be higher.


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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Justin Verlander, Tigers Are Dangerous Wild Card in Potential 1-Game Playoff

If the season ended Thursday, the Detroit Tigers would own the American League‘s second wild-card slot.

And they’d be one dangerous wild card.

After sweeping a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, Detroit sits at 82-70, a half-game up on the Baltimore Orioles (82-71) and one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays (83-69) in the WC scramble. 

The Tigers have won four straight and will play seven of their final 10 games at home. Their offense is clicking. And they have resurgent ace Justin Verlander ready to pitch in the do-or-die Wild Card Game.

Let’s start with Verlander. The 2011 AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner posted a plus-4.00 ERA in 2014 and logged just 133.1 innings last season, all while battling injuries.

The signs were pointing ominously toward a career on the downslope.

In 2016, he’s regained his Cy Young-caliber form. He allowed two earned runs in six innings with 11 strikeouts in the Game 2 win Thursday and now owns a 3.21 ERA with a Junior Circuit-pacing 234 punchouts in 213 frames. He’s been especially excellent since the All-Star break, posting an AL-best 2.16 ERA.

A great pitcher on an equally great run—that’s precisely who you want on the mound with the everything on the line.

That assumes two things: First, that the Tigers will punch a postseason ticket. Second, that they’ll be able to line up Verlander for the Wild Card Game.

As Evan Woodbery of MLive.com pointed out, “Verlander is currently slated to start on the final game in the season in Atlanta. If the Tigers have clinched a playoff spot by that time, he could be skipped. If they get into a [must]-win game one day earlier, perhaps he could pitch on short rest.” 

If Detroit does return to the October stage after missing the dance in 2015, Verlander won’t be the only reason.

The offense ranks fourth in the AL with a .760 OPS. Miguel Cabrera is hitting .307 with 34 home runs. J.D. Martinez has a .928 OPS and has been an unsung second-half hero. Victor Martinez (.288 average, 25 home runs) and Ian Kinsler (.277 average, 26 home runs) have done their thing.

After a dispiriting start, Justin Upton is finally living up to the six-year, $132.75 million deal he signed with Detroit this winter. He went deep Thursday and has four homers and nine RBI in his last six games.

The rotation isn’t all about Verlander, either. Michael Fulmer is the favorite to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors. The Tigers have notched a victory the last five times 23-year-old Daniel Norris took the ball. And 25-year-old Matt Boyd twirled an eight-inning gem in his most recent turn Sept. 20.

“We wouldn’t be here if those three guys weren’t pitching the way they are,” manager Brad Ausmus said of his young arms, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

On the other hand, veteran Anibal Sanchez owns a 5.77 ERA, and free-agent pickup Jordan Zimmermann is working his way back from a neck strain.

Add a bullpen that sports a 4.08 ERA, and it’s safe to say the burden will fall on Verlander and the lineup if the Tigers hope to make a deep run.

That said, the American League is wide open. Every contender is flawed. 

The Cleveland Indians, who lead Detroit by seven games in the AL Central, have an injury-depleted starting rotation. It’s almost certainly too late for the Tigers to catch them. But they could hang in a playoff series, just as they could hang with the AL West-leading Texas Rangers and their pedestrian plus-nine run differential. The same goes for the AL East gaggle, though the Boston Red Sox appear to be putting it together at the right time.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, of course. The Tigers haven’t wrapped up anything. This will likely go down to the wire.

If they do, though, and if they can find a way to put Verlander on the slab with Cabrera and Co. behind him, look out. It’s worth noting that neither the Jays nor the O’sDetroit’s two closest competitors for wild-card positionhave a transcendent, shutdown ace.

Verlander has been under the autumn glare before, logging 98.1 playoff innings scattered over five seasons with a 3.39 ERA and 112 strikeouts.

“I like pitching in big games,” Verlander said, per Fenech. “I always have.”

If the Tigers can keep their claws in for another week-plus, he may well get the chance.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Justin Verlander, Jose Bautista and More, Speak on MLB’s Drug-Testing Program

Even though Major League Baseball has made great strides over the last decade to build a drug policy that is fair and carries weight for those players who fail a test, there have been some cracks in the procedure. 

Speaking to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander posed a question about certain suspensions that have been handed out: “Every time a guy gets popped who didn’t test positive, it’s kind of like, ‘Why are we even going through this?'”

The specific example Rosenthal cited is the 80-game ban handed out to free-agent catcher Taylor Teagarden, after he admitted to taking a performance-enhancing substance in the Al-Jazeera America documentary released in December. 

After Teagarden’s suspension was announced April 1, Verlander took to Twitter to vent his frustration with how MLB‘s drug-testing policy was being utilized:

In addition to Teagarden’s suspension this year, in 2013, there were 14 players suspended because they were named in a Miami New Times report by Tim Elfrink as having a connection to the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami. 

Four of the 14 players named (Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal) in the article had failed a performance-enhancing drug test administered by Major League Baseball. 

Continuing his conversation with Rosenthal, Verlander acknowledged there are certain ways in which all players can take substances without getting caught. 

“If you want to cheat,” Verlander said, “there is a window to do it. Guys are finding ways around the system. It’s pretty evident, pretty well-known that the people who are making these illegal substances are ahead of the testers.”

On the other side of the equation, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista told Rosenthal that even though the system isn’t perfect, it is working well enough. 

“It’s going to be impossible to find a 100 percent level playing field. But it seems like we’re at 98-99 percent,” Bautista said. “That seems to be good enough. And the guys who are willing to risk it…there are always going to be a few rotten apples, no matter where you are.”

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw echoed Bautista’s sentiment: “If there was a type of testing that guaranteed every person that used PEDs would be caught, I would be all for it. I don’t think the problem is the length of the suspension, but more the improbability of being caught.”

All of the players are saying the same thing, though Verlander is the only one looking at it in a different way. There is a collectively bargained drug-testing system that the players go through, though MLB has demonstrated the authority to suspend someone without a positive test.

There’s no doubt that having a more stringent policy on performance-enhancing drugs is good for MLB and the players. They don’t have to worry about constant stories regarding someone having a sudden spike in performance raising eyebrows from fans and the media. 

Even though the policy may never be 100 percent satisfactory for both sides, it’s still fairly early in the process. There can be tweaks made through collective bargaining in the future to get a plan that works better for both parties. 

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