clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Starting Nine: Astros trade for Justin Verlander

TCB staff talks about the Astros big move to add Justin Verlander.

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Houston Astros have pushed all their chips to the center of the table for the 2017 season. General manager Jeff Luhnow pulled the trigger on acquiring Tigers RHP Justin Verlander. A move that seemed destined to happy since the trade winds started to blow.

The question now for the TCB staff is:

What did you think of the move to add Verlander (and Maybin)? Is the cost right? Does this move put Houston over the top?

Stephen:

I honestly don't care that much about the Maybin acquisition. I think the Astros probably realized that Fisher isn't the greatest in the outfield, so they acquired Maybin.

I love the Verlander trade. It hurts to lose Perez and Rodgers because Rodgers was the Astros future starting catcher. Perez may have been a solid number two starter. The thing is that the Astros are in a win now mode. They lost 2 of 3 from the Rangers in a stadium they should have never been at. They're city is filled with water. It's partially a morale boost. It's also an admission that the rotation was not good enough.

I agree. Look the Red Sox and Indians have been insanely hot and the Astros have not. LMJ will be back soon, but who is to say he won't get reinjured. The Astros didn't part with Whitley or Tucker. That makes it a win in my mind. I can live with the contract because the big money for the guys who deserve it will be shelled out in two years.

William:

The Verlander deal is a fair trade in my opinion. The Astros got an impact starter. I don't think anyone will argue with that. Verlander isn't at his peak to be sure, but he brings experience and a tremendous track record, and he is still pitching very well (especially in the later part of this season). The cost is a bit tough to swallow. It hurts. Franklin Perez is a really exciting prospect (#36 overall according to Baseball America), Daz Cameron has been having a good year and has blood lines (son of Mike Cameron), and some had been considering Jake Rodgers to be the Astros catcher of the future. So it hurts, but that's the sign of a good and fair trade.

The Astros players let it be known that they were disappointed at the lack of a big July move. While I don't think it was right of them to make such comments publicly, it reminded us that trades and the lack thereof can have an impact on the mindset and morale of a team. In trading for Justin Verlander, the Astros front office gave their players something to be excited about. Perhaps even more important at this time, they gave the city of Houston something to be excited about.

Brian:

Sure would have been nice to have this happen a month ago, but hey, better late than never.

This works for both sides. Detroit added three guys with definite MLB upside, with Perez having obvious star potential, and Cameron and Rogers both having solid MLB regular upside. Regardless of anything else, that's great return for a guy Verlander's age who has had struggles this year. It's a clearly, clearly better package than what the Astros got for Roy Oswalt years back, for example, and Oswalt was having a great year.

There are so many layers. I can't help but wonder what role the player complaints played in this. Keuchel was straight-up P.O.ed, and Reddick voiced it, too. I'm sure they weren't the only ones. I wonder how much wanting to create a good feeling about the organization in the clubhouse was. We're going to need to convince Correa and Altuve that they should stay in Houston instead of bolting for pinstripes. Hard to do that if your team keeps missing out on trades and signings. This move might have been just as much a morale booster as it was a performance booster. And we kept Whitley and Tucker...and Fisher. Given the offense sputtering as it has for the last six weeks or so, that may end up being important.

And I disagree with the notion from some that this doesn't help the Astros' odds much. I think people might be underselling what this allows them to do, especially in the playoffs. Keuchel and Verlander can take the first two games, and you can follow up with tandems; good luck getting to Peacock and McCullers if they're letting it all hang out for just three innings each at a time. A Morton and Fiers tandem could follow that up nicely. Meanwhile the Dragon and #HotCoffee and 100 Miles Giles and Harris and Martes are waiting out in the bullpen to rip it up for the last third of the game. The pitching situation lines up much better with Verlander in there, and he should help the bullpen reach the playoffs better rested, too (he's averaged 6.88 innings in his last nine starts, six of which have been seven or eight innings).

Chris:

I could write a million words on this. I dunno. Maybe I will. What am I doing at lunch time?

I like both moves.

Cameron Maybin gives the Astros a useful vet who fills the role that Nori Aoki was supposed to play, only slightly better. He gets on base, he's a base-running threat, he has enough pop that pitchers have to take him seriously, and his outfield defense is decent, if not spectacular. Derek Fisher is scuffling (.164/.282/.230 in August), and probably needs to be in a time share until he shows he can make an adjustment or three.

I like the addition of Verlander. I worry that his opt-out could turn this into a one-month rental at the cost of three very good young players. But that's a question for another day. Verlander unquestionably makes the Astros better. The prospect cost seems about right, even for a potential short rental of a one-time Cy Young Award and MVP winner. Jake Rodgers has blossomed, but still remains an (elite) defense-first catcher with questions about how his bat will translate to the majors. Daz Cameron could be great, but is very far away on the development scale. With Kyle Tucker in the pipe, and a long-ish contract on Josh Reddick, and other options from within and via free agency and trade in the future, Cameron was an ideal player to trade away.

Franklin Perez is the prize in this deal for the Tigers. But the pitcher who dominated A-ball in 2016 to put his name on the map has not quite matched that level of performance since reaching Double-A. His strikeout rate is way down, and his xFIP is over 4.00. He has been far out-pitched by teammate Rogelio Armenteros (now at AAA), but should remain a good middle of rotation upside prospect, but likely not an ace.

The best part of the Verlander deal were the names that were NOT included. Many fans (and radio hosts...) were ready to trade for Verlander at any cost during the July trade deadline. Like, ANY cost. But the Astros not only retained their entire major league roster, but also seven of their top eight prospects, including #1 Tucker and #2 Forrest Whitley, whose dominance has somewhat made Perez extraneous. Reported "untouchable" first baseman Yordan Alvarez also remains an Astro, as well as promising young major leaguers Fisher, Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, and David Paulino.

Great trade for the Astros. Great trade for the Tigers.

Clack:

My reaction is similar to what others have said. The trade return by the Astros hurts--probably more than the cold numbers can justify--but at least it's not Tucker, Martes, or Whitley. The Astros still have a solid core of prospects even after making a splashy trade. Putting Verlander in the rotation gives the Astros more security in the playoffs, knowing that they have a veteran pitcher with playoff experience. But the success of this trade depends on how Verlander continues to perform next season and after. The Astros have made a bet that Verlander will still get batters out as he gets older. Brent Strom does a great job with the pitchers; so maybe there should be optimism that Verlander can continue to make adjustments over his career. But, enough about the future, Verlander brings some immediate excitement to a playoff bound Astros team.

Spencer:

I'm pretty disappointed in the return required for Verlander. Asking prices on SPs are absolutely out of control compared to a couple of years ago, and that worked against the Astros here. Franklin Perez has been overshadowed by Whitley this year but had an easy #3 protection and youth on his side making him a premium arm. Daz Cameron was setting the world afire in the second half and living up to his draft billing and could be a top 100 guy by mid season 2018. There's also a dearth of quality catching in the minors right now, and Jake Rogers is one of the best on defense and had shown surprising hitting ability this season. For Verlander to be worth that return, in my opinion, he needs to contribute to an Astros World Series championship. He's still a very good arm but he is well past his prime at this point and has thrown like a low-end #2 this year. I'm excited to see JV suit up for Houston and he has plenty left in the tank, and I don't know where negotiations started, but seeing those three shipped off is a real knife in the gut for someone like me who religiously follows the farm.

Joshua:

I like both moves. The Maybin moves give a possible upgrade to the postseason outfield with Fisher struggling to adjust right now.

Verlander (as he is pitching right now) upgrades the rotation for the playoffs and the next two years. The salary is a reasonable number with the money Detroit is kicking in. I do think the Astros are in win now mode... but there are also in win the next several years mode too. They upgraded the rotation without touching any of the core guys.

The prospect price was higher than I expected but still didn't touch the top prospects (Tucker, Whitley, Alvarez) or the young rotation depth (Martes, Musgrove, Paulino). They traded guys who are certainly good prospects but may not have a place on an Astros roster within the next few years.

Idress

I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the following:

Clayton Kershaw - $35.6M

Zack Greinke - $34.0M

David Price - $30.0M

Felix Hernandez - $26.9M

C.C. Sabathia - $25.0M

Jon Lester - $25.0M

Johnny Cueto - $23.5M

Cole Hamels - $22.5M

Max Scherzer - $22.1M

Masahiro Tanaka - $22.0M

James Shields - $21.0M

Rick Porcello - $20.1M

Justin Verlander - $20.0M **

**This will be how much we are on the hook for Verlander for the next two years, as reports are the Tigers are including $8M per year.

As you can see, a starting pitcher is a really, really good career choice. Other notable starting pitchers are Jordan Zimmerman at $18.0M, John Lackey at $16.0M, and Mike Leake at $15M. The market has determined a very steep price for talented (and also not very productive anymore) starting pitchers. This, to me, is an integral part of this trade. We will be paying Justin Verlander less than it would have taken to acquire a comparable pitcher in free agency. I also felt that this was part of the reason we made a big push for Cole Hamels a few years back, because his contract was also set for a few years, while the market for starting pitching is almost consistently rising. Coincidentally, I think we paid a much lower acquisition cost for Verlander than it would have taken for Hamels, we might be paying less out of pocket for JV than Hamels per year, and I think JV can actually out-perform Hamels over the course of the next two years, which would be a triumvirate full of win!

You might be thinking, "Why not spend big on a free agent pitcher this offseason if that means we get to keep the three prospects that we had to trade away?" I'd surmise the top free agent starters this offseason are Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, who are 31 and 32, respectively. They are probably looking for $25M-$30M per year, for about 5 years. So let's compare:

Justin Verlander for a total of $40M investment and two years, or

Yu Darvish or Jake Arriate for a hypothetical total of $125M and 5 years

I think it's obvious, but give me the cheaper AND the shorter term investment in Verlander. Not to mention, Verlander also provides additional value in that he can help us in our playoff push this year.

I actually like the three prospects we traded away, so this deal looks to be mutually beneficial. But I also feel like all three come with their own risk, and I feel like the front office can determine where each fall in the pipeline. I think Franklin Perez has definite talent, and feel like his loss will hurt the most, but in an organization with Keuchel, Verlander, McCullers, McHugh, Peacock, Morton, Martes, Paulino, Cionel Perez, and Whitley (just off the top of my head), we have some depth to trade from. And Perez being a few years away, he can blossom into greatness or fizzle out. Why not trade that in for an immediate impact with Verlander?

And I don't mean to oversell Verlander, he comes with his own risks (there is inherent risk in ANY transaction). But although he isn't in his prime anymore, he certainly stands to stabilize our starting rotation, which will also benefit our bullpen. Going into the "normal" July 31st trade deadline, I was hoping to acquire a starting pitcher we could hand the ball to in the playoffs. I was thinking Quintana or Gray, but was really hoping for Archer (although I knew the Rays were contenders and not looking to sell at the deadline). Although we passed on Quintana and Gray, it looks like we found a cheaper alternative (in terms of acquisition cost) in Verlander. I am not sure if this was the intended plan all along (I seriously doubt it), but I think the way the cards played out, we walked away pretty fortunate.

David S.

Good trade for both teams. Verlander has a track record of pitching well late in the season and in the playoffs, so he should be a boone to a rotation that's been struggling with ineffectiveness and injuries.

Detroit doesn't get any marquee prospects, which is great for the Astros, but gets some solid pieces for an aging pitcher whose trade value is only likely to go down in the future.

Let's hope that this rejuvenates the Astros and gets their killer instinct back in time for the playoffs!

Jason:

The prospects were an overspend to my way of thinking, but they're actually the least of my concern this time. Concerning as well as Verlander's age and contract, and I think I can sum that concern up succinctly enough with this exchange between myself and Dan Szymborski last night on Twitter:

However, that's not really what is bothering me about this trade either. Honestly, I'm having difficulty putting my problems into coherent sentences, but I'll try.

I can't shake the feeling that this was a trade primarily for the sake of making a trade. A PR decision to sell tickets. And while that is FULLY within the team's right to choose if they wish, obviously, it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. I feel like the fans writ large (not so much here at TCB, where the best Astros fans on the Internet reside, but in the larger Astros fan community on the Internet) are effectively holding the team hostage in a prison built of vitriol, venom, and chewing gum. The Astros this year, SSS recent performance notwithstanding, are the best team in the American League (they also have the best record in the American League) and the 2017 version is pretty clearly the best Astros team in franchise history. Yet so many fans constantly, continuously deride (on verge of literal apoplectic rage) the front office, the current players, and any #Process defenders out there. They clamor for trade scenario after increasingly outlandish trade scenario just to see the team "DO something", they demand that the payroll balloon to unsustainable heights, on and on and on...this isn't hyperbole beyond our smart little dysfunctional bubble here at TCB, this is everyday normalcy in the mind of the average Astros fan. We have the best team in the AL and it's the best Astros team in franchise history, and yet the team is 15th (I believe) in attendance. The team desperately needs a boost, not in the clubhouse or on the field as much as it needs one in the seats. Add in the hurricane and the city reeling and in need of a reason to be excited, and I feel like the factors have combined to lead us to an addition that doesn't really move the needle that much (Verlander is still good and I'm excited to see him, truly, but he's more famous at this point than he is good) this year while adversely affecting (if only slightly) our already-questionable ability to retain some of our first wave of big stars to approach free agency. The contract is relatively short with the 2020 option voided, but the significant financial addition still has a tangible effect.

I say he doesn't move the needle much, by the way, because of playoff volatility more than any silly notion that Collin McHugh or Charlie Morton is better than him. This team (including its collective pitching unit) was already a top shelf, an elite team with the second or third best (depending on who you ask) chances of winning the World Series this year. Now the Astros are firmly the second most likely team to win the World Series this year. That, not to intentionally oversimplify or put too fine a point on it, is not a huge movement in the proverbial needle.

And it's not like I don't recognize that there are huge benefits of the move. The city actually IS reeling, and so many actually ARE super pumped now about the team and the front office, etc. The players (with the possible exception of probably-displaced Mike Fiers...) appear to be ecstatic. Those things all have real, tangible value that is almost impossible to quantify. I get that. Morale and chemistry are real, if messy and undesirable, components of team building. Verlander has the massive ability and even greater knowledge and experience from which the Astros pitchers (even Morton and Keuchel and McHugh, but especially guys like Martes and Whitley and McCullers) can learn. Also, the $20 million per annum that he's making here isn't even a large sum lain bare next to the salaries of guys like Kershaw and Greinke or compared to what Darvish and Arrieta are about to get this offseason. I understand all of these things.

Like I said above, though, I can't shake the feeling that this acquisition was made with too much weight given to the wrong factors...like ticket-buyer appeasement. Like clubhouse appeasement. Without having any idea what I'm talking about, it just feels like a Jim Crane addition...not a Luhnow/Mejdal one. By that I mean that it seems an emotional acquisition more than a logical one, and that hurts my heart because I really, truly thought this front office was...I don't want to say BETTER than that like it's bad to be emotional, but I guess...sort of above that, for the most part?

I really want to just be excited, and nothing else. I AM excited, superficially. I'm a huge fan of Justin Verlander's. I'm just concerned as well. I'm aware that these are unpopular thoughts and I expect to take a beating in the comments. That's fine. I promise not to climb up on a cross or anything, but if anyone is a fan of Max Brooks' work, in World War Z he references Israel's 10th Man Doctrine that attempts to avoid group-think by forcing someone to play a contrarian role no matter their actual feelings...well, I may not be well suited to the role and I actually do feel this way, instead of just playing Devil's Advocate, but that's a role I don't mind playing (badly) in this case. I'm in a small minority of people who are concerned about this deal, but it seems we should have a stake in the conversation too.