Justin Verlander returning to Detroit? Not so fast


Photo courtesy of The Detroit News

Justin Verlander tips his cap to the crowd following his warm-up tosses before his start against the Tigers in 2018.

It’s no secret that this is a massive offseason for the Detroit Tigers. After years of being bottomfeeders, the team showed tons of promise under first-year manager A.J. Hinch this season and are ready to start shelling some cash.

One of the marquee free agent starting pitchers is an old friend: Tigers legend Justin Verlander. Verlander hasn’t pitched in a year and half after undergoing Tommy John Surgery last season. 

Tommy John Surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament [elbow] surgery, typically has a 12-18 month recovery time. But for Verlander, who turns 39 in February, it may take a bit longer simply due to his age and wear and tear on his body. 

There has been quite the push from the Tigers fanbase to bring JV home — but there are a number of reasons why that may not be such a good idea.

The reasons to bring him back all sound good on paper. The Tigers desperately need a veteran starting pitcher with injuries to Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd. Verlander not only gives you that, but he would be a fantastic mentor for the team’s legion of young arms that include Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

Verlander would also reunite with his former manager. Hinch was Verlander’s manager from when he was traded to the Houston Astros in 2017 through 2019, so there’s some familiarity there. 

Everything sounds good, right? Well, hang on a sec — there’s more to this story. 

First off, it sure sounds like Verlander is seeking a long-term deal. Astros’ owner Jim Crane recently said Verlander would be seeking “a contract of some length.” At his age, coming off of major surgery on his pitching elbow, it just doesn’t seem like a smart move for a team who’s just entering their contending window to make.

Second, it also sounds like the Astros are going to extend a qualifying offer to Verlander. Teams give qualifying offers to players they believe will command a lot of money on the free agent market. 

Teams who sign a player who have received a qualifying offer forfeit their third-highest draft pick to the players’ previous team. So it’s a high risk, high reward tactic on both sides. Verlander could accept the qualifying offer and the Astros would have to pay him close to $20 million on a one-year contract. 

The Tigers are not in a position to risk losing one of their higher draft picks for a guy with so much risk attached to him. They are just coming out of a rebuild, and could use all of the ammunition they can get to acquire young talent.

Verlander just doesn’t seem like the right fit for this team at this time. But, if the Tigers are looking to bring back a former Hall-of-Fame caliber starter of theirs, I wouldn’t be upset if they threw a bunch of money at Max Scherzer.

Scherzer isn’t much younger than Verlander at 37, but he’s still pitching like he’s in his prime. He was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA with the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers this season. If they gave him a three-year deal for about $30-35 million a year, that would be a much better investment. 

I like JV. He’s one of the greatest pitchers this team has ever had. But he’s coming off a major injury and he’s past his prime. 

Sorry to rain on your parade Tigers fans, but Verlander probably isn’t coming home.