By: Will Burchfield
The situation isn’t in Justin Verlander’s control.
Except, of course, that it is.
If the Tigers strike a deal for their ace in the coming month, Verlander will have the power to veto it.
Rumors have intensified in the past few days with the Tigers struggling to stay afloat in the A.L. Central and the July 31 trade deadline around the corner.
“I dealt with it in the offseason. Just kind of in the background, I don’t pay too much attention to it. Obviously I see it and hear it, that’s out of my control. If it does come to that point, it’s also in my control,” Verlander said on Wednesday.
“It’s one of those things you don’t really think and talk about too much until it’s right there in front of my face,” he added.
Is it safe to say Verlander would prefer to stay with the Tigers?
“It’s safe to say whatever you want, it’s all speculation. So many different things to be discussed. All those possibilities would be overwhelming,” he said.
Among the various factors that could influence his decision should the Tigers come to him with a trade, the possibility of pitching for a playoff contender seems to be of leading importance.
“That would go into my decision making, yes. And I’m sure that’s in the decision-making process of all the other teams out there,” said Verlander. “Only thing I’m really thinking about right now, because I see it and hear it every day, I’m worried about pitching, recovery, what I have to do to be successful. The good news is, my body and my arm feel fantastic, best it has in a long time.”
Verlander is 34 years old and has yet to win a World Series in 12 full seasons in the bigs. In some ways, he said, the urge to capture a ring weighs heavier on his mind now than it did earlier in his career.
“Yes and no. I think I realize how much harder it is now. It was kind of a Cinderella story early for myself, for the city and for the ballclub. My first year, going to the World Series, and then going to the playoffs many years consecutively and just being part of a dominant organization,” he said. “But having not won a World Series, now realizing how hard it is to even make it to the playoffs, you start to understand.
“However, the flip side, I’m not sitting here thinking I’m at the very end of my career. If you’d asked me a few years ago, it might’ve been a different story. But right now, my body and arm feel great. So I think I have a lot of time left, and hopefully can win one for this organization.”
All things being equal, would Verlander like to remain with the only organization he’s ever played for?
“You can’t say all things being equal, because they’re not,” he said.
Through the first three months of the season, the Tigers are 37-45. They’re seven games behind in the division and 5.5 games back in the wild-card race. An extensive makeover, quite possibly at the deadline, feels imminent.
Despite being a franchise icon, Verlander is far from untouchable.
“It’s just the way sports are now. It’s the aberration the other way around, to stay with one organization your entire career, the (Derek) Jeters, the Chipper Jones of the world,” he said. “Ideally, you’d like that to happen. Fortunately, I can control my own destiny, but it’s one of those things — if the organization thinks it’s best for them, if I think it’s best for me, there’s a lot of variables that go into it.
“But obviously where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility, obviously.”
Verlander has found himself in trade rumors since GM Al Avila said last November that considerable changes are coming to the organization, namely in the realm of payroll. The Tigers’ ace makes $28 million per year through 2019, with a $22 million vesting option in 2020.
“Al’s been very forthcoming. He said, ‘Don’t listen to everything that’s out there. If anything comes to fruition, I’ll be the first to talk to you.’ Until, or if, that point comes, nothing to think about really,” said Verlander.
He added that he has a first-hand appreciation for the fact that baseball is a business, having been involved in contentious contract negotiations with the Tigers after they drafted him second overall in 2004.
“I’m in a situation when I first signed here, I got introduced to baseball as a business pretty quickly and I’ve never really forgotten that. Even though I think of this organization as family, you always know there is that underlying business tone. It isn’t just happy-go-lucky, this is an organization that needs to be run,” Verlander said.
The fans, aware that Verlander might not be long for Detroit, have lately expressed their gratitude for all that he’s done for the Tigers.
“I’ve had a lot of people on the street come up and say, ‘Hey, we hope you stay.’ Or, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done.’ Honestly, a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, I just want to say think you,'” said Verlander.
As for those who suggest he’s finished, Verlander easily brushes it aside. He is 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA this season, but nearly won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2016.
“I think most of those people said that a few years ago and I think I did a pretty good job of shoving it up those people’s ass,” he said.
Verlander has been linked most prominently to the Cubs in trade rumors. Buster Olney reported on Tuesday that the Tigers are looking for a huge return for the six-time All-Star and are not inclined to eat any of his contract.
Avila declined to comment on the situation on Wednesday, after the Tigers introduced first-round draft pick Alex Faedo.
A prevailing theory in regard to Verlander’s trade value is that a move to a contending team would reinvigorate him. Of course, Verlander doesn’t think he needs it.
“I give everything I’ve got every time I’m out there. I like pitching in big games, I always have, but there’s no extra motivation for me. I’m very well personally motivated,” he said.
Brad Ausmus, asked about the idea on Wednesday, agreed with his ace.
“Justin’s so competitive, I don’t know if that would apply to him. But there obviously are cases where a player has been traded or even released and picked up by another team and he’s performed much better, for whatever reason,” Ausmus said.
The manager dismissed the notion that Tigers fans would begrudge Verlander waiving his no-trade clause, should it come to that.
“It’s a good baseball town, I think they understand the realities behind it. If it doesn’t look like this team’s gonna win or if this team decides to go in a different direction, I don’t think they would begrudge Verlander. The vast majority of fans in this town like Justin Verlander,” said Ausmus. “He was extremely good for them for an extremely long period of time and he’s been on a lot of winning teams.”
Ausmus believes Verlander has “a ton of upside” and expects him to pitch much better in the second half, either in Detroit or elsewhere. The two have discussed the trade rumors of late, but only in passing.
“We joked about it the other day,” Ausmus said. “When the stuff came out this winter I called all those guys, those rumors have been floating around since the beginning of the offseason. Other than making light of it, there’s really not much to say.”
Verlander is of the same mind.
“Just worry about what you can control, while you can control it — my bullpen today, which went great, my start Saturday, All-Star break vacation. That’s what’s in the forefront of my mind now,” he said. “Just trying to keep it business as usual.”