Justin Verlander’s contract is so big that the Tigers had no fear any other team would want it. After the traditional trade deadline passed at the end of July, Verlander and the $28 million he’s owed in each of the next two years easily cleared revocable waivers, making the 34-year-old Tiger still eligible to leave Detroit this month.
That might be good news for the Houston Astros, who have reportedly been in trade talks with the Tigers since the deadline. Houston is currently the best team in the American League, but the front office caused some anxiety, even in their own clubhouse, when they didn’t make a move for another arm in the rotation in July. At a glance, though, this wasn’t a roster with any key holes that needed to be plugged. In the rotation is a solid line-up that includes the 2015 Cy Young winner, a rising young ace, and a couple of journeymen enjoying career years. It’s not a legendarily terrifying group, but it can still be enough to win a playoff series.
Injuries, however, are taking a toll. Lance McCullers, the 23-year-old who was only getting better, went on the DL last week for resurgent back pain after a run of bad starts. Dallas Keuchel, too, has only pitched a combined eight innings in two starts since returning from injury. With these setbacks, the thought of the Astros needing to send out Brad Peacock or Charlie Morton, as solid as they’ve been this year, in a Game 7 is just a little too worrisome for the team to stand pat.
Verlander, at this point in his career, wouldn’t be a dominant ace for Houston, but if McCullers and Keuchel aren’t healthy, he would need to be. His numbers this year have shown the expected amount of regression after a vintage season in 2016, but Verlander remains a formidable opponent. His recent run of starts in particular suggests he still has a lot left in the tank. In his last four outings, Verlander has topped eight strikeouts thrice, and in the game where he didn’t, he still pitched six scoreless innings. Verlander can’t go more than seven innings anymore, but he also can’t be underestimated. His last decade of work makes him the no-brainer choice for a big game.
Blockbuster August trades are generally pretty rare, since they require players that no other team wants, but Verlander might be the uncommon late-season add who could actually make a difference in this year’s playoffs. With a young core that’s mostly locked up for at least the next few seasons, the Astros don’t necessarily need to sell out their long-term plan to go for it all in 2017, but they have a small enough payroll (below league average) to shoulder the burden of Verlander’s contract. If he can win even just a few games in October, that money will be well spent.