The Tigers are “looking for [a] big,big,big return without salary offset” in exchange for Justin Verlander, according to the perception of teams who have asked about the star right-hander, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter links).
It isn’t surprising that Detroit would aim this high in trade talks, both because Verlander has been such a cornerstone for the franchise and for “it only takes one team to say yes” reasons. Other reports have suggested that the Tigers would be open to eating some of Verlander’s remaining salary, so it could be that the Tigers are willing to move from their initial demands.
Some flexibility is likely required to facilitate a Verlander trade given the many factors involved. Most importantly, Verlander has a full no-trade clause, so he could scuttle any deal if he simply doesn’t want to leave Detroit. It isn’t known whether Verlander is open to being dealt or what his demands would be (if any) for waiving his no-trade clause, though whatever the case, he clearly has “enormous leverage” in whatever trade negotiations take place, as Olney writes.
The righty is owed roughly $13.6MM for the remainder of this season, $28MM in both 2018 and 2019, and a $22MM vesting option for 2020 that is guaranteed if Verlander has a top-five finish in the 2019 Cy Young Award voting.
Beyond the money, there’s also the fact that Verlander is 34 and has 2437 career innings on his arm. He posted great numbers in 2016 and in the second half of an injury-shortened 2015 season, though Verlander has managed just a 4.96 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and career-worst 4.3 BB/9 over 98 IP this year. Verlander’s fastball velocity (95mph) is the hardest he’s thrown since 2011, though he has a 37.8% hard-contact rate that far surpasses his 27.1% career average.
His inconsistent 2017 season and the Tigers’ demands notwithstanding, however, one would think Verlander would draw quite a bit of trade interest considering his track record as a top-of-the-rotation ace. At least three or four teams have checked in with the Tigers about Verlander, with the Cubs and Dodgers both linked to former Cy Young Award winner on an exploratory basis. Chicago and Los Angeles fit the profile of the (somewhat limited) type of team that could swing a Verlander trade — a big-market club with a deep farm system, so they could afford at least a chunk of Verlander’s future earnings and also have the prospects available to interest the Tigers.
Tigers GM Al Avila has recently commented both about his franchise’s desire to cut payroll and his openness to listening to trade offers for veteran players, though moving Verlander would represent a larger step towards a potential rebuild than dealing, for instance, impending free agents like J.D. Martinez or Alex Avila. If Detroit is planning on a quick return to contention, however, I would suspect the team would look for both young talent and some slightly pricier proven MLB talent that would help the Tigers in 2018. That type of return could help make up the numbers in a Verlander trade if the Tigers are indeed not willing to eat much or any of Verlander’s contract.