By: Will Burchfield
Despite rumors that the Tigers were going to blow things up this winter, the great offseason makeover never came to be.
Justin Verlander, for one, was relieved.
“It would have been upsetting for me if we started trading away everybody,” Verlander told MLB Network Radio on Friday. “I’m too old to be part of a rebuilding process.
“But they kept saying wholeheartedly, ‘We’re not doing a rebuild, we’re trying to make smart baseball decisions. And if we can’t make those decisions then we’re not just going to blow up the team for the sake of salary.’ I believed them.”
And rightly so. As general manager Al Avila explained earlier this week, ownership never told him he had to cut payroll.
Still, Verlander, who will turn 34 next month, was the subject of a number of trade rumors in the early parts of the offseason. At one point he was connected to the L.A. Dodgers, a story that only gained steam when he and his finance Kate Upton bought a house in Beverly Hills.
Verlander admitted such chatter was interesting to hear – “and then all of a sudden that gets your wheels spinning a little bit” – but his heart remains with the Tigers.
“I love Detroit. I’ve been there my whole career, which nowadays is pretty rare, especially for any length of time. So I would have (had) to weigh a lot of things,” he said.
Most importantly, Verlander believes the Tigers have serious ambitions.
“I think we want to win. Mr. Ilitch has done a great job my entire career putting a great product on the field and it looks like were going to be that way again — I certainly hope so. Look, he wants to give Detroit a World Series and so do we.”
The Tigers finished 86-75 in 2016 and were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season. They leaned heavily on a trio of rookie arms down the stretch in Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, something that gives Verlander confidence heading into next season.
“I think if you had told us that at the end of the year, coming down the home stretch, we’d have (three) rookies in the rotation and we’d have a chance to win, I might have found that pretty hard to believe,” he admitted. “But those guys, man, they stepped up and did an unbelievable job.”
Fulmer, Norris and Boyd, all acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, teamed up to win 21 games and had a combined 3.56 ERA.
“That was really one of the first times since I’ve been here where you’re starting to look at some guys getting older and then all of a sudden you have this fresh, young group of guys and said, ‘Wow, thats a good sign for our future moving forward,'” Verlander said. “Some of the moves we’ve made in the past, we’re showing the fruits of that labor.”
Assuming Jordan Zimmermann can make a full recovery from the neck and groin injuries that plagued him in the second half, Verlander likes the look of the Tigers’ starting rotation.
“I’m excited about it, man. These guys work hard, everybody’s got the right mentality and obviously Zimm being healthy makes a huge difference,” he said. “If he had been healthy all last year, I’d like to take our chances that we would have made (the playoffs).”