By: Will Burchfield
It was on, it was off, it was on again.
The trade that sent Justin Verlander to the Astros in exchange for three well-regarded prospects was an uncertain proposition until the final minute. It was a true buzzer-beater, with Verlander okaying the deal just moments before the Aug. 31 midnight deadline.
A player must be added to a team’s 40-man roster before Sept. 1 in order to be eligible for the postseason. Verlander gained eligibility with the Astros by the skin of his teeth.
Here’s how it all went down, according to Jon Morosi, who joined the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Friday morning.
“The deal was agreed upon I think in the last hour, probably 11:15, 11:30,” said Morosi. “When the deal was presented to Verlander — and my understanding is there were some Tigers’ officials at Verlander’s house in suburban Detroit talking to him about this — he initially said, ‘No.’ Or, more appropriately, ‘Not yet.’
Verlander knew the Cubs were pursuing him as well, and he preferred Chicago to Houston as the next stop in his career.
“He wanted to give the Cubs possibility as much time as possible to play out. He was not going to agree to go somewhere else until he knew that Chicago was off the table,” Morosi said. “When the initial (Astros) deal was presented to him and he said no, the Tigers circled back with the Cubs and that possibility was not viable.”
The problem was the Cubs, who not long ago boasted the best farm system in baseball, didn’t have the prospects to entice the Tigers after making a flurry of win-now deals in the past year and a half.
“So the Tigers circled back to Verlander in the last 10 minutes before midnight to say, ‘Listen, Justin, the Cubs possibility is not going to happen. If you’re going anywhere tonight, it’s going to be Houston,” Morosi said. “He reconsidered, then, with the Cubs off the table, and then in the very final moments before midnight he agreed to the deal and became a Houston Astro.”
With the Astros, the best team in the American League, Verlander will have a prime opportunity to capture the World Series title that’s eluded him throughout his career. Morosi noted the veteran’s preference for Chicago should not be taken personally by fans in Houston.
“Verlander loves the city of Chicago, very familiar with it, so he wanted to let that possibility play out as long as he could. And that’s his right. He earned that no-trade clause (as a veteran with 10-and-5 rights.) No one should have an issue with that, and I think no one in Houston should take any offense to him wanting to play that out,” said Morosi.
Verlander, 34, has long been known as a big-game pitcher, and the Astros’ rotation needs one. In 16 career playoff starts he has a 3.39 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.
“We have all known him for a long time as a great competitor, and when the opportunity was presented to him to chase a World Series for this October and potentially two more with the Astros, a young, talent-laden team, he took it. It’s obviously a sensitive and very difficult moment for the city of Houston, but he was willing to sign on for that. So I give Justin immense credit,” Morosi said.
In exchange for Verlander, Tigers general manager Al Avila landed three of the Astros’ top-ranked prospects, including right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez, the No. 32-ranked prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. And Avila proved true to his word that the Tigers would eat some of Verlander’s contract if the right offer came their way.
Detroit will pay $8 million of his $28 million salary each of the next two seasons, according to Bob Nightengale.
“Franklin Perez is regarded as a potential No. 1-type starting pitcher, and the fact the Tigers were able to make a deal with the Astros, who, as of last night, had one of the deepest farm systems in the game, that reflected very well on Al Avila as a GM,” said Morosi. “That decision in the final moments, going back and forth, that took a lot of courage. A lot of big moments in that last half hour where I think Avila’s resolve was tested.”
Added Morosi, “I think the Tigers have always done right by Verlander, always treated him well. The relationship has been a really positive one for a long time, and there were moments of trust there that I think went both ways. I would commend all parties, on Verlander’s part and Avila’s part, to have that deal come down to the final minutes.”
Verlander will make his Astros debut on Tuesday versus the Mariners. Per Nightengale, Houston has waived his 2020 vesting option, meaning he’ll be a free agent after the 2019 season.