How likely is a Justin Verlander reunion with Detroit Tigers? Why it makes sense and why it doesn’t

There’s a chance your favorite Tiger could come home

DETROIT – When former Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander made his first start for the Houston Astros in September 2017, it was difficult to watch.

Fans in Detroit witnessed the makings of a Hall-of-Famer over the course of more than a decade. Two no-hitters, Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season, two World Series appearances, and countless strikeouts were made in the Old English D. The only difference between his resume in Detroit and Houston was a World Series ring.

Now, the 38-year-old veteran has the ball in his court. He’s coming off of Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched since September 2019. By the time spring training starts in 2022, he’ll already be 39, though Verlander insists he’ll still be on the mound at 45.

The kicker here is that Verlander has until Nov. 17 to accept or reject an $18.4 million qualifying offer from Houston. If he takes that offer, he’ll remain in Houston for the 2022 season. If he rejects the offer, he has the ability to test the waters in free agency. Several teams were in attendance to watch Verlander throw a 25-pitch bullpen last week, including Detroit.

If he declines his offer, is it worth spending millions to bring back a beloved pitcher? Can he regain his old form? Can Kate Upton bare the freezing cold Detroit winters again?

Reasons why it makes sense

First things first, Verlander has to reject his qualifying offer in order for this dream to become a reality.

It’s no secret that A.J. Hinch made quite the dent during his first season in Detroit. Things are finally starting to look up after a long and tedious rebuild, and in this case, Verlander would have to decide that he wants to be a part of the resurgence. He already got his ring in Houston, so the box of winning a ring has been checked. As he nears the end of his career, doesn’t it make sense to go back to his team of more than a decade to try to win a World Series?

Verlander must be well aware of the young arms in the rotation, and his knowledge and experience would work wonders for guys like Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. Now, if the Tigers and Verlander reach an agreement, he won’t be the only pitcher Detroit signs this offseason, as Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd are out next year due to injuries.

Bringing Verlander back to Detroit won’t be cheap, but if the Tigers decide to be “all in,” who knows what other moves that could trigger? They have already been linked to some top free agents, and it goes without saying that plenty of money would be involved if they decide to make a splash. The Tigers are in dire need of a shortstop, and the biggest name on everyone’s mind is Carlos Correa.

Now, here’s something to consider: How likely is it that Verlander and Correa become a package deal to Detroit? They both received qualifying offers, and just because they reject their offers doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed to play for another team.

Houston reportedly offered Correa a five-year, $160 million offer, but Correa has indicated he’s looking for a deal in the nine- to 10-year range. He’s only 27, and you can guarantee he’ll want a minimum of $250 million.

Bringing Correa and Verlander to Motown is quite an expensive tab, considering Detroit is looking to add a minimum of three players to the roster, but they would both play for their former manager, with whom they won a World Series.

If Verlander takes a deal to return, odds are it’s a three-year contract somewhere in the $50 million range. Even if Verlander gets his third chance at a World Series ring in Detroit, don’t expect October baseball in Detroit right away.

Reasons why it won’t happen

Plain and simple: He’s too expensive and not worth the risk.

There’s no guarantee that Verlander is going to be the pitcher he was prior to Tommy John surgery. He threw a 25-pitch bullpen and everyone went bananas because he’s still throwing gas. He’s thrown 2,988 career innings, not including the postseason. Just for reference, CC Sabathia finished his 19-year career with 3,577 innings pitched. While he still appeared in more than 25 games in his final four seasons, he wasn’t the pitcher he used to be, especially in terms of velocity.

What happens to a lot of veteran pitchers in the final years of their career is that their velocity dips and they become more reliant on control and finesse. Now, it’s not like this is guaranteed to happen to Verlander, nor is it a given that he loses velocity and struggles to locate his pitches. The upside here, though, is that because bullpens have evolved, Verlander wouldn’t have to pitch seven innings every five days like he used to.

Detroit needs at least two more starters in the rotation, and that’s going to cost some money. Signing pitchers to long-term deals isn’t cheap, nor is it necessarily a great bet. Look at the New York Yankees. They gave Gerrit Cole more than $300 million two years ago, and he couldn’t even give them three innings in this year’s wildcard game. It should be obvious to the front office that Detroit shouldn’t give Verlander a long-term deal, and realistically, he shouldn’t bet too high on himself.

His best bet is to accept a one-year deal worth around $20 million. If he wants out of Houston, he could join the Angels and see what he can bring to a season with a healthy Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Toronto is another option to bolster an already super-talented Blue Jays roster. Doing so gives him an opportunity to see where he’s at nearly two years removed from pitching, and allows him to feel out his health in the final years of his career.

Signing Verlander to a one-year deal doesn’t automatically make the Tigers a playoff contender, but one season of Verlander for a plethora of teams could be their golden ticket to the World Series.

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