In 2017, the Detroit Tigers’ once-beloved star pitcher, Justin Verlander, was traded to the Houston Astros in a package deal that would ultimately send three prospects to Detroit in return. Now in 2021, Justin Verlander is serving his last year of a 2-year, $66 million deal with the Astros and will be a free agent heading into 2022.
The Detroit Tigers, who have been rebuilding for some time now, are in need of some veterans to pair with and help develop their young pitching stars (such as 23-year-old Casey Mize). This begs the question: could Justin Verlander be making a return to Detroit in 2022?
In 2004, the Detroit Tigers used the second overall pick in the MLB draft to draft a young Justin Verlander. In 2005, Verlander would make his professional debut, underwhelmingly with only two starts and posting an ERA that was over 7.00. Nonetheless, Verlander would develop over the years and eventually establish himself as a Tigers legend and a threat on the mound. Verlander would throw two no-hitters and would come within reach of multiple Cy Young awards (given the league’s best pitcher) during his time in Detroit.
Verlander would serve the majority of his career with the Tigers, from the time he was drafted in October of 2004 until he was traded at the start of the Tigers’ “rebuild” in 2017. The Tigers’ newly hired manager and former Astros manager, AJ Hinch, also has ties to Verlander from his days with the Astros. Hinch was a part of the Astros’ decision to acquire Verlander in 2017, as they would both lead the Astros to two American League pennants (2017 and 2019) and a World Series title (2017) together. The ties that Verlander has with Detroit are undeniable, and his baseball roots in Detroit could become a factor in his return if the Tigers choose to pursue him.
Justin Verlander turned 38 years old earlier this year and underwent Tommy-John surgery in late 2020, effectively ending his 2021 season. Right now, Verlander’s contract with the Astros nets him over $30 million per year. However, in 2022 Verlander’s age and questions surrounding his health following his season-ending surgery may force Verlander to take less money on a shorter-term deal.
After all, fewer teams will be looking to invest in Verlander in 2022 than when he initially departed from Detroit in 2017. While he may end up getting a bigger contract than most of the Tigers’ current roster will receive, it is not out of the question that the Tigers could pick up the veteran pitcher at a discounted price.
If the 2021 Detroit Tigers have shown us anything this year, it’s that this team is nowhere near being competitive, and the front office is seemingly okay with this. Nonetheless, if owner Chris Illitch wants to keep fans interested and fill Comerica Park, he will have to keep them engaged with something. That something could be bringing home a former Tigers legend such as Justin Verlander. Even though he’s advancing in years, Verlander is no slouch on the mound as he posted a 21-6, 2.58 ERA, and won a Cy Young award in his last full season on the mound in 2019. Verlander holds a career record of 226-129 in 17 seasons and a career ERA of 3.33.
The return of Justin Verlander could also mark an important turning point for Tigers pitching. Bringing on a 17-year pitching vet who has had the amount of success that Verlander has reached in his career could bring valuable experience and teaching moments to many young pitchers that the Tigers front office seems so heavily invested in.
Bringing on Justin Verlander seems to have a lot of upside for the Tigers, but with opportunity comes risk, and Justin Verlander could be a risky signing. As we can see across the league with big names that are growing old, throwing big money at an old player does not always work. While Verlander may come at a discounted price because of his age and injury risk (both issues currently being faced by Miguel Cabrera, another former Tigers star whose best years are behind him), he will still by no means be a cheap investment. Depending on the deal and length of the contract, Verlander could still expect to make anywhere between $20-30 million per year, especially if he is expected to return to a Tigers team that is currently in shambles.
Dream Scenario for Detroit Tigers fans
The Tigers’ best case scenario in bringing Justin Verlander home would be signing him on a short-term contract (2-4 years) for a reasonable price. If Verlander can help develop the young pitchers while also contributing a watchable product for Tigers fans at least once a week, the Tigers should look into bringing home one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. Seeing Verlander reunite with both the city of Detroit and AJ Hinch could help spark the Tigers into a new era of baseball while also giving fans something to talk about during the remainder of the rebuild.