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Levine: Cubs May Be Best Match For Tigers’ Justin Verlander

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs continued to look at pitching on the trade market, trying to make sense of what they need to add to repeat as champions in 2017.

A primary part of this due diligence is figuring out if one more starting pitcher will be needed for a big run. With right-hander Kyle Hendricks not yet in his usual form after a hand injury and right-hander John Lackey showing wear and tear at 38, the Cubs must consider adding a starter for the present who can also preferably fill a role in the future for a couple seasons.

Sitting in Detroit is the big arm of Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, who will earn $28 million in each of the next two seasons and has a $22 million vesting option for 2020. Only a few MLB teams would be capable of absorbing Verlander’s big payroll commitment moving forward, and the Cubs and Dodgers are the contending clubs that best fit that profile, sources said. The addition of Verlander would provide the Cubs protection beyond 2017 if right-hander Jake Arrieta and Lackey both leave this offseason, as many expect.

Both big-market teams have the financial resources and player resources to make a deal for the 34-year-old Verlander, who would have the final say because of a full no-trade clause in his contract. Verlander is still good, but he hasn’t been the dominant force this season that he was in 2016, when he finished second in the American League Cy Young race. Verlander is 5-7 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.44 WHIP this season, and his 4.1 walks-per-nine-innings rate is the worst of his career. That could cause pause for interested teams, as could projecting his effectiveness in 2019 and 2020.

“He is still very effective pitching deep into games at 95 mph,” an AL scout said. “In my opinion, he will be a solid acquisition for this season and next. In the National League, he should benefit from facing one less hitter in a lineup. Verlander is still a very game competitor. He has leadership qualities that should fit in nicely with every contender.”

The Cubs are looking at starters and relievers on the trade market. Orioles closer Zach Britton is likely to be traded and would be a fine addition to any club. The trouble with a potential Cubs-Orioles deal is that Baltimore needs more starting pitching that’s big league-ready or close to it, sources said. The Cubs have promising starting pitchers in their farm system, but they’re at the lower levels.

Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish is available as a rental player, as he’s expected to re-sign with Texas when he becomes a free agent in November. Some believe the Rangers desire young pitching in return for Darvish.

For now — and maybe the rest of the season — the Cubs will work with what they have. That doesn’t yet include going with a sixth starter to ease the workload on the regular five-man rotation.

“We really have not talked about that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That has not been strongly circulated right now.”

Maddon was asked if he would welcome another starting pitcher.

“I really think what we need is already right here,” Maddon responded. “I mean that sincerely. Our guys have been trending in the right direction. If you are going to bring in someone else, you would need to have a lot of moving parts that occur. That has not been a part of my discussion with Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) at all.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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