Detroit Tigers Notes: Justin Verlander and No Regrets

Justin Verlander, circa 2011. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Justin Verlander, circa 2011. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Justin Verlander, a future Hall of Fame inductee and one of the three greatest pitchers in Detroit Tigers history, is possibly willing to rejoin a club that hasn’t spent many days doing anything particularly good since he left.

This isn’t a very hard choice. The Detroit Tigers should bring Justin Verlander back. You don’t worry too much about the price or length of the deal either.

Former Detroit Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said on Detroit radio “you have to be careful what you’re paying for” and other quotes about the trepidation of bringing back an aging Verlander fresh off surgery. Yeah…it all makes sense, Jim. But I think sometimes you roll the dice and when I do I’d rather bet on big talents.

Usually, I’m dead set against living in the past. I don’t listen to 80’s music. I like new stuff. But I’m not dumb enough to bet against Verlander proving to people he’s still damn good. So if the Tigers want to party like it’s 2013 and reunite Verlander with Miguel Cabrera, let’s dance.

Certainly, there are reasons to be skeptical. A pitcher his age recovering from Tommy John Surgery (TJS) isn’t a safe bet. That’s baked in. You can find the list of pitchers Verlander’s age who’ve attempted to come back from TJS and note it’s not an attractive list. But it’s such a short list it kind of becomes a meaningless small sample. Mainly it comes down to those fellows who were never close in talent to Verlander. He’s his own case study.

Justin Verlander is competitive enough and stubborn enough to get back. When we last saw him in 2019 he was still cruising along as one of the best pitchers in MLB. Verlander struck out even 300 batters in 223 innings racking up 21 wins, a 2.58 ERA (3.27 FIP), and a 7.4 bWAR. He has more room for error and a deeper pitch repertoire than the common 39-year old tomato can be looking to hang on somewhere.

If the Houston Astros are going to let him look around the Tigers should absolutely pursue the reunion. Tigers owner Chris Ilitch has been threatening to compete on the open market fir talent. Let’s see the proof. A deal for Verlander shouldn’t hogtie Al Avila from pursuing other free agents to fit his lineup if Ilitch is truly turning on the faucet.

A reasonable deal with some safeguards for both sides should be able to be reached. A comfortable base salary ($20M/yr?) and a myriad of performance bonuses could be tied to the deal. Perhaps an opt-out after year two for Verlander and a club option for the Tigers after year three.

The Tigers have some of the pieces of a top-notch rotation of the youngsters keep progressing. Adding a veteran like Verlander could be a key piece toward pushing this club to contend. His ceiling is freaky high. Could his arm never recover? Sure. That’s on the spectrum of outcomes. But any free agent of any age has Jordan Zimmermann’s bust potential. Few have “Verlander-lite from 2019” potential. It’s a risk I take all day.

At the end of the day, I just trust Justin Verlander to find a way to not only compete again but be a factor in propelling the club he ends up with into contention. If there is another Nolan Ryan looming who can pitch competitively into his mid-40’s active in today’s game, I’ll take Verlander as the guy to do it and give you the field.

Extension Hangover

We’re talking about a 15-game sample, so it means very little in the grand scheme. Also, nobody is blaming the player for letting up once his deal was inked. However…

Johnathan Schoop signed his extension on August 7th. In the 15 games since the signing, he’s gone into a funk. An unsightly slash-line of .231/.250/.277 in 68 plate appearances with 0 HR, 5 RBI, 14 K/2 BB, and 3 2B.

Schoop could easily go off again and carry the offense in September and if the Tigers harbor hopes of a symbolic run at a .500 record for good appearances, they’ll need Schoop’s bat to heat up.

The slow stretch does show again the deal wasn’t necessarily the automatic bargain many observers were clamoring for. We have a lot of evidence over the course of Schoop’s career that he’s been an average guy. The Tigers opted to commit to him during a two-month heater where he could do little wrong. The jury will decide the merits of this deal down the line.

A Detroit Tigers Rivalry Missed

MLB long ago decided for fans of both teams that a great inter-league rivalry could be built between the Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s an annual matchup now. It’s also a snooze. There isn’t a hint of anything deep and meaningful beyond being just another regular-season match.

The Pirates have pitched into the dreariness by being equally pathetic as the Tigers have been the last several seasons.

Meanwhile, the Tigers trip into St. Louis really reveals the opportunity missed to create at least some semblance of a rivalry that has historical teeth sunk into fans’ minds.

Detroit and St. Louis have faced off in four World Series matchups (‘34, ‘35, ‘68, and 2006) with both teams claiming two titles. In a sport that sells memories as much as it does anything else, the Tigers and Cards have the real history to pick apart and celebrate.

The Cardinals do have a sensible geographic rival in the cross-state Kansas City Royals. The two clubs also faced off in a World Series in the ’80s. It would be reasonable to say you can’t break that up.

However, sometimes change can be good and inter-league play could use some freshening up. If MLB wanted to create new yearly matchups it seems St. Louis and Detroit would be an easy win.

500 and onward to 3000

Thank you, Miguel Cabrera. It’s was a true pleasure for a fan to see #500 fly in Toronto. It’s going to be grand fun counting up to 3000 hits sometime soon.

Much has been said about the decline of Cabrera and the anchor his contract is for the Tigers. Some of it is very true and some are overblown. He’s not the guy he was and his contract started to look bad sooner than anyone hoped after it was signed.

But forget all that. Now is the time to recognize the career of achievement at the plate. It’s a first-ballot HoF resume.

More importantly, it’s time to talk about the player he still is and the joy he brings to the game. Cabrera might be an easier out than he once was…but he’s still competing. He’s using the knowledge and experience accrued over these years to help a young ball club claw its way out of the wilderness of losing. It’s been impressive in a way a sub-.800 OPS rarely is.

Cabrera is also just simply fun to watch. He’s enjoying the time and allowing us to enjoy the ride with him.

History is being made. Appreciate it. Revel in it. It’s why we devote ourselves to this sport. Cabrera has given us this time to appreciate the achievement and exult in the pursuit.