The trade rumors are hot regarding Justin Verlander, with the Houston Astros as the primary suitor for the 34-year-old Detroit Tiger righthander. The consensus in baseball media is that Houston needs to acquire Verlander. I’m not so sure. This is how I see the pros and cons of getting the Tiger veteran.
*Houston does need some depth in its starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel is a legit ace, but how do you feel about Charlie Morton or Brad Peacock? Can Lance McCullers get healthy? There’s no question Verlander is an upgrade.
*Even though Houston is running away with the AL West, you need only look back to 2015 to see what a quality starting pitching acquisition can do for a team in similar circumstances. In ‘15, the Kansas City Royals were running away with the AL Central, had depth concerns in the rotation and traded for Johnny Cueto. He ended up saving the Royals in the Division Series, then dominating a Game 2 World Series start that put KC on their way to a title.
*Verlander’s track record in the Division Series suggests he could do something similar. He has a career ERA of 2.15 in eight starts at this round of the postseason, including a Game 5 gem at Oakland in 2013. Verlander could be the difference between at least reaching the ALCS or going home early.
*Verlander is even better than Cueto in one important regard—the latter was a pure rental and left via free agency in October. Verlander is under contract through 2019. Given the strong, youthful core of the Astros’ lineup, that gives them three good shots at making a deal like this pay off.
*Continuing the Cueto comparison, he was at peak of his career. Can you really say the same about Verlander? He hasn’t had a really great year since 2013 (I know he finished second in the Cy Young voting last season, but I’m still trying to figure out why). Houston would be trading for a pitcher clearly on the downside of his career.
*The Astros would pay $21.5 million per year through 2019. This isn’t the New York market. In Houston, paying Verlander means forgoing getting into free agency on someone else. And if the end of line comes up quicker than expected, that’s money that will seriously hamstring this organization at a time when so many other young players are peaking.
*As good as Verlander has been in the Division Series, his ALCS record is spotty and his World Series starts have been a disaster, most notably his Game 1 meltdown against San Francisco in 2012 that set the tone for a Giants’ sweep. If Houston invests big in Verlander, I’m sure they expect more than just getting to the ALCS.
If I’m the Astros, my first priority is protecting the farm system and the future. This is not a group of players whose window is closing anytime soon. If Detroit wants any prospects considered “Grade A” by baseball experts, I’d pass.
But if it’s about the money, I think I’d risk it. This is still a fan base hungry to win it all. If Detroit just wants to dump Verlander’s salary so they can rebuild, Houston should do the deal. But don’t give up young talent .