By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — One of the top talent evaluators of the Detroit Tigers is currently following the Cubs. Why? Because Chicago may have its eyes on a deal for Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander.
Sitting at 41-42 entering play Wednesday and with a desire to acquire more than a rental pitcher, the Cubs could view Verlander as a key piece to help reconnect the dots this season and beyond. The 34-year-old Verlander is under contract through the 2019 season, with a vesting option for 2020 if he finishes in the top five of the Cy Young voting in 2019.
At 37-45 and in fourth place in the AL Central, the Tigers are in selling mode. They need to get younger and have more financial flexibility, as their payroll doesn’t match the production they’re receiving from the lineup and rotation.
Verlander is one of their large contracts, owed about $14 million for the remainder of this season, $28 million in 2018 and $28 million in 2019 — about $70 million in total. His vesting option for 2020 is for $22 million.
“They look like Philadelphia from a few years ago,” a National League scout said. “The Tigers have had a great run since 2006. They combined an aggressive style, established a new interest by the fan base and ticket-buying corporate community. Ownership — much like in Philly — gets spoiled with great crowds and local support. At a certain point, you start to misdirect your baseball executives, and the plan blows up on you. You bring in too many veterans, and the whole dynamic changes. We hear Verlander and a lot of their players will be available.”
Verlander has had an underwhelming season, as he’s 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. He’s struck out 92 batters in 98 innings.
“He would be a better National League pitcher now,” the same scout said. “He will face one less hitter in the NL, and he will automatically have to come out in the sixth inning for a pinch-hitter. He could thrive in that type of environment”
For the Cubs, the thought process of adding a veteran like Verlander would be a multi-layered plan. First and foremost, he’s a playoff-tested pitcher for a potential postseason run this season. Verlander boasts a career 3.39 ERA in the postseason.
Beyond that, the Cubs need to add starting pitching because Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will both be free agents after this season. Having Verlander around for 2018 and 2019 would allow the organization a few more years to develop its own starting pitching from within.
The money owed to Verlander — $70 million or so — would be steep but doable. The exit of Miguel Montero recently coupled with the likely exits of Arrieta and Lackey means that $45 million is coming off the books after 2017.
The Cubs have had all of their pro scouts looking for quality starting pitching since spring training, and that edict will continue to be on the forefront of everyone’s mind ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.