The Detroit Tigers have conveniently become more interesting and Justin Verlander could get them to the next level
In an article published by the Detroit Free Press’ Evan Petzold ($), Justin Verlander was quite frank about his thoughts on returning to the Detroit Tigers. He did not go as far as to say he has a desire to return. After all, that probably would not present the greatest negotiation tactic–and who knows the variables he has to consider outside of the baseball ones. His family and infant child chief among them.
But what he and his family members had to say should nevertheless lend context clues as to where Verlander’s head is: returning to Detroit. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” told Verlander to Petzold. How could it not cross his mind? Verlander has been public about his admiration for the city and the fans. To lead a comeback tour not only for himself but for the club at large from the same rubber he toed at Comerica Park on July 23rd, 2005 as a 22-year-old thrower is chill-inducing just to ponder.
Those chills from a fan’s perspective would only get amplified from someone like Verlander directly–who not only has been first-hand to his time here and the immense work to return over the past year, but has the same competitive juices we see from the Scherzers and the Karinchaks of today’s game.
How could it not cross his mind?
Perhaps more telling than Justin’s comments, though, come from brother, Ben, in the same article:
Poetic, indeed. Ben is now employed as an MLB analyst for FOX Sports. He could have claimed conflict of interest. He could have saved the story for himself. He could have claimed ignorance. He could have simply said it was Justin’s choice and left it at that. Instead, “It feels like it’d be right.”
From every angle, Verlander back in the Olde English D just makes sense. It has been said that Verlander could play a Kenny Rogers-like role for their World Series club in 2006. Perhaps in some ways, Verlander is like 2006 Kenny Rogers: A pitcher who is well-regarded for his reliability who is on the tail end of his career coming from a Texas team to turn around a sorry era of baseball for the Detroit Tigers.
This should not be viewed as some mentor role, however. Sure, Verlander could tutor and teach Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning. Maybe his Tommy John experience could even help Joey Wentz or Alex Faedo. Kenny Rogers likely did some of that in 2006 with a pair of 23 year-olds in Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman. Nevertheless, don’t call it a swan song send-off.
In some ways, Verlander is closer to the Magglio Ordonez role: A player sidelined with a significant injury who is a calculated risk with immense upside remaining. Or maybe Ivan Rodriguez, who was coming to Detroit after winning a World Series; poised to win with a new team. Just as Pudge had familiarity with Dave Dombrowski from his Marlins days, so does Verlander with manager AJ Hinch, who had this to say about Verlander for Game 6 of the 2017 World Series:
"“I think his demeanor, his perparation, his…his personality, his performance, all raised the bar for the organization…he’s such a big-time pitcher, and we want him to step up and do well and he’s prepared to do that. Why not have him a third time where we’ve needed him to step up and lead this energy in our dugout? There’s nobody better to have than him.”"
Hinch is certainly trying to hype up his guy here, no doubt. But as a Detroit Tigers fan, seeing what we have from Verlander across his 12 seasons with the team, is there anything there he said that was incorrect? If the club is trying to build up and make the postseason, what better time than now to allow him to throw to the catcher he was acquired for in 2017?
This rotation has made stupendous strides since its gruesome 2020 season, but it likely still isn’t a playoff starting core as it stands. What better way to bolster their pitching room than adding such a player who is short-removed from a Cy Young season? A Verlander/Mize/Skubal/Turnbull/Boyd rotation would be good for about 18 WAR on its own, assuming health. By comparison, the 2013 juggernaut Tiger pitchers supplied 23 WAR across their respective appearances.
Poetry is right; there are parallels galore that would make for a fun summer 2022 every fifth day, regardless of how his spin rates, velocities, or stat lines look. But beyond the story, the Detroit Tigers need Verlander for victory. We keep hearing about the build-up to come. Justin Verlander, at age 39, might make the old Detroit Tigers new as early as 2022.