As in any aspect of life, baseball makes it difficult to separate the head from the heart. Part of the joy of being a fan is the emotional roller coaster that each game, year, and era brings. But, with joys come sorrows. That is how many Detroit Tigers fans found themselves on Friday morning in the wake of one of the franchise’s biggest trades in recent history.
For the Tigers and their fans the gap between 1984 and 2006 felt like an eternity, with the bottom of the standings often being much closer than a trip to the World Series. The past 11 seasons have been much of the opposite, with a competitive roster year in and year out and lofty expectations to match. Perhaps no player better represented the rebirth of this new era more than Justin Verlander, a player whose career has essentially mirrored the team’s climb. As he finally exits the Motor City, so too has this era of prosperity.
No doubt about it, losing Verlander stings. This website and many others will be filled with tributes and memories over the next week or so, and they could not be more appropriate for a player who helped revitalized this organization. However, as tough as it can be to say goodbye to a franchise cornerstone, general manager Al Avila and the Tigers front office made the right move on Thursday night.
For years, analysts talked about the Tigers’ declining window continuously being propped up by large contracts and win-now trades. Fans loved the chance to compete and maximize the usage of the aging core, willing to sacrifice the future for the present. While some of the personnel decisions made in this mold may have been unwise, the rationale was certainly there in support. However, few really focused on what that future might look like, afraid of what would be to come.
With the trade of Verlander, the Tigers have now sold away the majority of their valuable assets, and that once-distant future is more of a reality. Aging players like Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler may provide a few more years of value, but there is no way to look at the roster and believe the team has a chance at seriously competing over the next couple seasons. Verlander is a fan favorite and a pleasure to watch, but his impact would ultimately be in vain if he were to continue pitching for this team next season.
And that is why the Tigers needed to sell. Verlander would have made the 2018, 2019, and even 2020 Tigers better teams, but the team has shifted its focus – for the better. His numbers this season show that he is still a force on the mound, but that dominance will not last forever. Avila needed to trade him while he still is a hot commodity, and he found a team willing to pay a significant price.
Without going into deep trade and prospect analysis, the Tigers should be extremely happy with this return. All three prospects from the Astros look like future major leaguers and fill positions of need. It would not be a shock to see this trade yield the team’s long-term solution at catcher and in center field, as well as provide a rotation staple. When trading an ace this is the type of return to demand.
Objectively, on paper, trading Verlander was the right decision. The Tigers continue to replenish the farm while finding salary relief, allowing for a more flexible future with assets to build around. Emotionally the move is a bit less clear, but taking a step back – as hard as that may be – reveals that there really was only one course of action.
A brighter future
No one truly wants to endure a rebuild, but the writing was on the wall for Detroit. Out have gone Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila, and in have come a slew of prospects that completely overhaul the minor league organization. Some of may not pan out – in fact, some will not pan out – but others will become the new foundation of this team.
Until that time, fans will have to wait. There will be bumps in the road. There will be bittersweet moments when old friends succeed elsewhere. There will be times of frustration. But there will also be hope for the future, which is something this organization has not truly had in a long time. While there was always hope for a postseason run and hope for next season, there was also a dark abyss after the end of the current era, whenever that would be.
Finally, that era has come to an end, an era with two World Series appearances, four-straight division titles, three-consecutive MVPs, and two Cy Young winners. It sucks to say goodbye. However, turning the page is a little less hard when that dark void begins to show a glimmer of light. The end of the tunnel is still far away, and getting there will not be easy. The last gift that Verlander gave this organization is a few more bricks on the path to get there.