The Dodgers are no-doubt looking for starting pitching reinforcements, and heading into the season Justin Verlander would have been a solid get. Now? Maybe not.
Coming off a season where he should have won the AL Cy Young, Justin Verlander looked to be a prime trade candidate for a Tigers team that appeared on the brink of a fire sale and rebuild. The Dodgers and Tigers did have talks during the offseason, but nothing came to fruition. However, there is still some speculation going around that Verlander might be destined for Los Angeles because of LA’s financial resources and assets.
He was a workhorse in 2016, throwing 227.2 innings and compiling a 3.04 ERA, 1.001 WHIP, and 254 strikeouts (10.0/K/9). He also had the highest swinging strike rate of his career (12%), meaning, his stuff was as good as it’s ever been and batters just couldn’t touch him.
And if you take a look at just his velocity this year, you’d think that he got even better. He’s throwing every pitch harder than he did last year, and his fastball is the hardest it’s been since 2012 at 95.5 mph, which is surprising for a 34-year-old.
However, he’s taken a turn for the worse this year and age might be catching up to him. Even with the increased velocity, his numbers have declined to a 4.66 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, and an 8.4 K/9. He is allowing an unsightly 9.1 hits and 4.4 walks per nine innings. With a FIP of 4.32 and BABIP of .308, you can’t argue that he has been the victim of bad luck either.
He has the second worst OPS allowed of his career at 0.749 along with the worst walk rate (11%) of his career (6% last year). Throw in the less-than-stellar 40.7% fly ball rate and the type of contact he is allowing, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for his struggles. He is allowing a career-worst 38.1% hard hit rate, well above his career average of 27.2%, and isn’t generating soft contact as he has in the past.
It gets even worse though. At 34 years of age and 2,449 innings on his arm, this seems to be a legitimate decline. And the worst part? His contract. After this season, he is guaranteed $56 million through 2019 with a vesting option for 2020 worth $22 million if he finishes top-5 in the 2019 Cy Young voting.
That is a lot of money the Dodgers would have to take on for what seems to be a declining player. A big money contract to a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 is arguably the riskiest thing in this business, but it’s even worse when said pitcher is getting paid handsomely in his mid-30s.
Paying Verlander would go against this front office’s goal of decreasing payroll. It would and take away the future financial flexibility that is about to come when Andre Ethier’s, Carl Crawford’s, Adrian Gonzalez’s, Brandon McCarthy’s, and Scott Kazmir’s contracts come off the books this and next winter.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the Tigers had a huge asking price for the pitcher.
And it’s understandable. Verlander has been a cornerstone and face of the franchise since 2006. He is their Clayton Kershaw. That alone makes him extremely valuable to Detroit, regardless of current performance. And he’s a proven pitcher with a great track record.
However, the Dodgers would be foolish to meet Detroit’s demands because track record only means so much when you’re an expensive 34-year-old in decline. If the Tigers were willing to eat a large portion of Verlander’s contract, then the prospect price would be high, and vice versa. Either way, JV would be expensive in some way or another.
If Verlander was, say at least five years younger, and/or making half the money he is right now, then he’d be someone to seriously consider taking a chance on because of his reputation.
And I might be completely wrong here. I did think that Zack Greinke was in decline before this season, so Verlander may just be having an off year like Greinke did last year. However, Greinke seems he will age better. He doesn’t throw hard as Verlander does, and relies more on command, control, and execution; all which age better than velocity.
Slotting into the middle of the Dodger rotation with Rick Honeycutt as his pitching coach might work wonders on JV. And a change of scenery, specifically to a team with legitimate World Series aspiration might re-energize him once again. But that is a lot of speculation not worth taking a chance on.