Back in May, Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals. After word got out that Strasburg would not be headlining this winter’s free agent class for starting pitchers, I wrote about how shitty this free agent class was going to be..
I’m not using hyperbole here, either. It’s legitimately a very shitty free agent class, especially compared to last year when we had David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto all up for grabs. Scanning the list of free agent starting pitchers here, aside from 37-year-old Rich Hill, I really don’t think there’s anybody worth getting excited about. And even Hill, who I absolutely love, still isn’t all that exciting. FanGraphs projects that he’ll get a deal worth $51 million over three years. You’ll have signed a 37-year-old through his age-39 season. And for as great as he’s been over the last year or so, committing three years to a pitcher of that age with such an inconsistent track record is fairly risky.
Other, I guess, “notable” names include CJ Wilson, Andrew Cashner, Doug Fister, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Edinson Volquez, and that’s about it. No franchise-altering names out there. That’s why teams are going to have to get creative, which it sounds like the Dodgers are trying to do. LA made it to the sixth game of the National League Championship Series before being dismissed by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers gave up a decent haul to acquire Josh Reddick and Hill at the deadline, both rental players.
Before throwing a single pitch for the Dodgers, Hill needed a DL stint after being acquired, missing nearly the entire month of August because of a blister. He then had to be skipped in the rotation after coming off the disabled list, also because of a blister. Hill made four postseason starts for the Dodgers this past October, and had a 7.20 ERA through his first three with opponents hitting .341 with a .976 OPS against him in 10 innings. Not great.
He rebounded by pitching six shutout innings in Game 3 of the NLCS, but still. The impression that he made with the Dodgers wasn’t the greatest. He did have a 1.83 ERA in 6 regular season starts, so it’s not like LA wouldn’t welcome him back, but I think they know that they can’t depend on him to be their No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw. Kenta Maeda had a very solid rookie season for the Dodgers in 2016, making 32 starts with a 3.48 ERA, and striking out 179 batters in 175.2 innings. However, he ran out of gas at the end, though, allowing 8 earned runs in 10.2 postseason innings over three starts.
That brings us to this interesting little trade rumor. With a weak ass free agent class, and a need towards the top of their rotation, could the Dodgers be looking to make a move for Justin Verlander?
The Tigers are looking to shed some payroll this winter, and the highest paid player on their team, Miguel Cabrera, has already been linked to the Houston Astros in trade rumors. The next highest paid player on the roster would be Verlander, who is still owed $84 million over the next three years with a vesting option worth $22 million in 2020. The option would vest if Verlander finishes in the top 5 for the Cy Young award in 2019.
I don’t wanna say that Verlander’s trade value has never been higher, but it’s definitely the highest that it’s been in a long time. In my opinion, Verlander should be your 2016 Cy Young award winner. He’s coming off a season in which he threw the second most innings in the American League (227.2), had the second lowest ERA (3.04), the lowest WHIP (1.00), racked up the most strikeouts (254), accumulated the highest WAR (6.6), and the best average game score (61.6). Plain and simple, he was the best pitcher in the American League this year, and would make one hell of a one-two punch atop the Dodgers rotation with Kershaw.
The question now, obviously becomes, what can the Tigers get in return for Verlander? That all depends on the moving parts. Is it just Verlander? Is it Verlander and another piece, like maybe Ian Kinsler? Are the Dodgers assuming all of the remaining money on Verlander’s contract? Are the Tigers eating some of the salary in order to make the deal a little more enticing to LA, given that Verlander is heading into his age-34 season next year? Detroit is going to be looking to stock up on young, controllable talent. Baseball America’s mid-season Top 100 Prospects list had a grand total of zero Tigers prospects. Zero. They’ll be looking to change that if Verlander is on the move.