Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline passed nearly a full week ago, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning. In fact, the deadline was little more than a speed bump for Justin Verlander, who easily cleared revocable waivers last week. General manager Al Avila told reporters that Verlander would likely remain a member of the Detroit Tigers through the end of the season, but recent reports suggest otherwise.
The Houston Astros have been hot after Verlander of late, even getting in contact with the Tigers recently, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Houston’s starting pitching depth has taken a hit with Lance McCullers on the disabled list, and ace Dallas Keuchel was not pleased with the team’s inactivity before last week’s non-waiver deadline.
The main impediment to a deal, as always, is Verlander’s contract. He is owed $28 million in both 2018 and 2019, and has a $22 million vesting option for 2020 that many believe he would ask to be exercised in exchange for waiving his 5-and-10 no-trade rights. Teams have repeatedly balked at the idea of picking up Verlander’s entire contract — and they would have claimed him last week if they were okay with all that salary — and the Tigers have been reluctant to kick in a significant amount of money in a potential deal.
Were the Tigers to finally relent and include salary relief, the Astros certainly have the prospects to get a deal done. They have one of the better farm systems in baseball, headlined by a bevy of talented outfielders and starting pitchers. Tigers fans would likely set their sights on righthander Francis Martes, outfielder Kyle Tucker, former Tigers prospect David Paulino, and other big names as a worthy return for a franchise cornerstone.
While the new trade rules provided little resistance to Verlander’s trade potential, it could make the other side of a hypothetical trade more difficult. Martes and outfielder Derek Fisher are both on the Astros’ 40-man roster, and would have to clear waivers in order to be dealt to Detroit. There has been a “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts between rival general managers in the past when it comes to August trades, but it would not be a surprise to see an opposing team claim one of these top prospects in order to block a trade of this magnitude.
Few other teams have gotten involved in the Verlander sweepstakes, but his recent hot streak may help turn some heads. He has limited opponents to a 2.31 ERA in his last six starts, and has racked up 44 strikeouts to 13 walks in his last 39 innings. He struck out 10 without walking a batter in his last start, a win over the Baltimore Orioles last Friday.