Justin Verlander has a lot to think about these days. It seems like every time he takes the mound lately, someone is implying it could be his last time doing so as a Tiger. Fans have given him standing ovations, and the press has quizzed him non-stop about the possibility of his departure. So, it should come as no surprise that the chatter is starting to get to him.
This following a renewed wave of speculation about the interest from another Texas team, the Houston Astros. The Astros have been strongly linked to Verlander trade talks since before the deadline, and according to many it seems that the hold up has very little to do with Verlander’s hefty $28 million a year deal, and much more to do with valuable prospects. Prospects that the Tigers badly want, and that the Astros have no interest in parting with.
For Verlander, though, there’s obviously a personal element attached to the calculated front office game. He was unsparingly candid with the press on Tuesday when he admitted, “I think I do a pretty good job when I come here to the ballpark of putting everything in the back of my mind and going about my business, trying to prepare to pitch every fifth game. But there's been some nights when I wake up and remember dreams of whatever, who knows what team I'm going to. It's on my mind, that's for sure. But it's not going to limit or prohibit me from doing my job here.”
The dreams he spoke of might very well include a World Series ring, something he’s unlikely to see on his hand if he spends the last of his good years with Detroit. Yet the Tigers have been Verlander’s team since the beginning of his career. He made his debut with them in 2005, and has helped take them to two American League pennant victories. The one thing that has evaded him with the team however, is a World Series win.
It’s not only the rumors weighing on him. The Tigers’ dismal performance this year has gotten him down. He said that after the Justin Upton walk-off home run on the weekend he felt a sense of disappointment mixed with the joy. “We win a game on a walk-off homer, which is great, but most of the time I've been here, when those moments happen, it means something more than just the moment. And the moments right now are just kind of fleeting, good moments or bad.”
The sense of the wins counting for something has all but vanished this season, and Verlander seems keenly aware of it.
He added, however, “I think you have to go out there and do your job. We're all professionals. We get paid a lot of money to play this game, and I still take extreme pride in going out there and doing everything that I can to help us win a game.”
And while the rumors swirl, they have calmed down somewhat in the last twenty-four hours, with most observers agreeing it is highly unlikely the Astros will make a move this season. What the offseason holds for the long relationship between Verlander and the Tigers is another question, and one which makes each start this year feel like it might be part of a farewell tour. If Verlander has it his way, he’s going to make sure each one of those remaining starts counts.
"As long as I'm part of this organization, my plan is to win. I'm not a negative person, and I would hope that everyone in this locker room is not that person. We've got to find a way to win, whether it's going into this offseason, winter moves we've got to make, whether it's winning next year, as long as I'm wearing the Old English D, we're going to win, in my mind.”