DETROIT – Justin Verlander is a rarity in baseball these days — a veteran in his 13th season who has played for only one franchise.
His future in Detroit, once so secure, has become increasingly uncertain.
“Even though I think of this organization as family, you always know that there is that underlying business tone,” Verlander said. “This isn’t just kind of happy go lucky. This is an organization that needs to be run.”
With the Tigers languishing below .500, the next few weeks could be a tumultuous stretch in Detroit. The team was already planning to cut payroll before next season, and if the Tigers don’t show some real signs of contending soon, the pressure will be on general manager Al Avila to trade some of his biggest stars and get something in return. That could even include Verlander, the 34-year-old former MVP who has helped Detroit win four AL Central titles and two pennants.
“Obviously, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Verlander said before Wednesday night’s game against San Francisco. “It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.”
Verlander made his debut for the Tigers in 2005, and there aren’t many other active players who have been around that long while spending their whole careers with one team. Joe Mauer is another — he’s been with Minnesota since 2004. Yadier Molina began his tenure with St. Louis in ’04, as well.
Verlander won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011, and he’s surpassed 200 innings nine times in his career. The tireless right-hander has been a fan favorite in Detroit, and he has the right to block any trade. Of course, a deal this month would presumably send him to a contending team and give Verlander a better chance to win an elusive World Series ring.
“It’s just the way sports are now,” Verlander said. “It’s the aberration the other way around, for a player to stay with their organization over his whole career — the Jeters, the Chipper Joneses of the world.”
Verlander’s trade value is a complex question. He’s 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA this year, and he’s at an age when a decline like that can be particularly worrisome. But Verlander experienced a resurgence last season, finishing a close second in the Cy Young vote .
Then there’s his contract, which calls for him to be paid $28 million in both 2018 and 2019, and includes a $22 million vesting option in 2020 that becomes guaranteed if he’s in the top five of the 2019 Cy Young vote. That price tag could limit what the Tigers can receive in return if they were to trade Verlander — unless they’re willing to cover some of the cost.
At this point, Verlander can only wait and see if he’ll be presented with the option of moving to a contender. He doesn’t want to speculate about what he might do if that possibility comes about. He’ll deal with it if it happens.
“I think there’s so many different things that would need to be discussed and thought about, it’s almost too much to think about right now,” Verlander said. “If I started thinking about all those possibilities, that could become overwhelming, so I’m not.”