The Detroit Tigers Should Count On Verlander, Not Re-Sign Scherzer

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Lately, it feels as if Justin Verlander’s life off the mound has trumped his prowess between the white lines. Highlights of his MVP season have been replaced on ESPN by court-side appearances with Kate Upton. And, in that time, Verlander himself has been replaced in the minds of many by Max Scherzer as the ace of the Detroit Tigers.

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However, the Tigers would be wise to show faith in Verlander in 2015, and beyond, rather than spend $200 million on Scherzer.

While many Tigers fans, and media outlets, have given up on Verlander, Dave Dombrowski, and the Tigers’ front office, should not. Verlander has been a key cog in the Tigers’ recent success and his competitive intensity cannot be overlooked. Taking a chance on the former MVP is far less risky than adding another massive contract to the laundry list of payouts that have damaged the Tigers’ future, and have yet to bring them a championship.

A key point in the debate on Verlander’s decline has been the argument over his velocity. But, while his velocity has dropped every year since 2011, Verlander still throws very hard. Does he still throw 98 regularly? No. But, according to Fangraphs, he still averages 93.1 MPH on his fastball, and according to an article by Chris McCosky of The Detroit News, if you ask Verlander himself, he attributes this dip to his core injury, not his age. Not only that, but, according to McCosky, Verlander “believes his fastball can be rejuvenated with a full offseason work regimen, which he has already begun.”

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Until the Tigers get to Lakeland, there is no way of knowing what Verlander still has left in terms of velocity, or whether he will re-invent himself, but it would be unwise to bet against him. Beyond that, there truly is reason to believe that the core injury is the cause of his poor performance in 2014.

Despite the outcry of Tigers fans everywhere, Verlander was still an above average pitcher in 2013, posting an ERA of 3.46, (which was just .31 points higher than Scherzer’s 2014 season), and striking out 217 batters, which was just 33 strikeouts shy of his total (250) during that spectacular MVP year.

Furthermore, according to a report on MLB.com, Dave Dombrowski believes that the core injury was almost assuredly bothering Verlander that same year. A year ago, an official announcement of the injury, and the resulting surgery, prefaced one of Verlander’s worst seasons as a professional. The coincidence is hard to miss. As Verlander himself suggested, a full, healthy offseason could provide a return to form.

Scherzer and Verlander both present risks. But for the Tigers counting on Verlander is much safer, and smarter, than betting that Scherzer’s performance will justify his contract. Not only is Scherzer just one year younger, at 30 years old, but he is not as talented in his prime as Verlander was in his.

By the same token, pair Scherzer’s contracts to the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Verlander, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez and the future looks bleak for the Tigers. While Reuben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies’ front office have been much maligned for their stockpile of expensive, aging players, that core won a ring.

These Tigers have yet to do so and they’re headed in that direction. Does another “win-now” contract justify a dark future, for a team that has yet to win now? Only time will tell. Betting on Justin Verlander seems more certain.

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