By: Will Burchfield
Batterymates Justin Verlander and Alex Avila were reunited in Detroit this season and could prolong their connection in Chicago.
The Cubs have expressed interest in both players throughout this month. Per Jon Morosi, talks with the Tigers are ongoing.
The Cubs have a clear need for a backup catcher after they released Miguel Montero last month; 23-year-old Victor Caratini hasn’t looked up to snuff in the interim.
Avila, 30, is enjoying a renaissance at the plate in 2017. He has 11 homers, 32 RBI and his .890 OPS ranks second among MLB catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. For the Cubs, he would be a great complement to the righty-hitting Wilson Contreras.
The veteran is a free agent after this season.
As for Verlander, the fit is less clear. The Cubs have five established starters in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks and the recently-acquired Jose Quintana. How or where Verlander would slide into their rotation is unknown.
Still, the Cubs had a scout in attendance for Verlander’s start versus the Royals on Monday night. The right-hander gave up three runs and struck out nine over seven innings.
Verlander is in the midst of a down season, but he’s historically a second-half pitcher. In four starts since the All-Star break, he has a 2.77 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
Both he and Brad Ausmus agreed on Monday night that the former Cy Young winner seems to have turned a corner.
“Overall, I think the last couple (starts) have been what I’ve been looking for. I’m very optimistic about where I’m at right now,” Verlander said.
Of course, the ability has never really been the question concerning a potential trade. It’s the money. Verlander is owed $28 million per season through 2019 with a $22 million vesting option in 2020.
With a number of contracts coming off the books after this season, the Cubs have the financial flexibility to take on Verlander’s deal. But the Tigers would have to eat some of the money if they want good prospects in return.