I woke up this morning thinking about Justin Verlander. More accurately, I woke up this morning thinking about eggs and a bagel, and how much I wished it were raining, but eventually Verlander snuck into my brain. This past weekend was one of the most deflating in Seattle baseball history, full stop. There are no shortage of disastrous moments from Deadgar Weekend, but for a team still just 1.5 games back of the second wild card, the most horrifying moment came in the 7th inning last Thursday. James Paxton's strained pectoral muscle put an even greater strain on the Mariners' slim playoff odds. The current rotation has returned to the mire of early May, where Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda are the "established" options. It’s a historically bad unit, and yet the Mariners are in the thick of a playoff race while running out their preseason No. 5, No. 6, a long reliever, a rookie coming of Tommy John, and James Paxton’s buddy from college.
The term "playoff team" is pretty hand-wavy, so I'll simply say that this is not a team you can trust. It's not a team that has any margin for error defensively, offensively, or in the bullpen. There is no one in the entire organization that is an impact arm that can help the rotation right now. Tacoma is staffed by the arms we have seen riding the Mariners’ Saddest Carousel all season, and 20-year-old Nick Neidert, the most intriguing arm in Double-A, is being gradually decelerated after his recent promotion so we don’t break him, too. Dylan Unsworth, the soft-tossing South African, could be a possibility that we at least have yet to see, but he too, is injured. It's a helpless, infuriating position, and it sucks. Give me good baseball, give me bad baseball, but don't give me injured baseball. There is nothing more dispiriting.
To invigorate any playoff push, the M's need pitching. Realistically, they need multiple pitchers, but in a waiver-trade scenario there are already so many things we don't know that it's easiest to focus on one thing. The target most frequently suggested has been Justin Verlander. He’s the most recognizable name on the market and fans fixate on what they know. Yes, the Mariners should target Jhoulys Chacin and anyone of his ilk, we all would agree. Verlander is almost assuredly out of the M’s reach, but if you glance in the LL Twitter mentions over the past week and a half, his name is the second-most frequent two word phrase, narrowly losing out to “$#%& (insert current M’s pitcher here)”. I don’t know if I even want the M’s to pursue Verlander, but it’s worth considering at least. Now I’m here to ask what you think.
Verlander is owed $56 million through 2018 and 2019, plus a few million from the rest of this year. He's been a strong starter this year, worth 2.3 fWAR over 151 IP for Detroit. That's mostly in line with his 2014 pace, but it’s a slip from his resurgent 2016 campaign. Verlander's 4.11/4.18 ERA/FIP would both make him the Mariners' best starter by a margin so great that I do not want to think about too long or else the sadness will creep back in. At 34 years old, he could be headed for a steep decline the next couple seasons, but his velocity has been in line with his 2011 numbers after a multi-year dip, and a 6'5/225 frame has sustained him well. With the 4th-lowest GB% in the MLB for qualified starters, Verlander would likely also be a beneficiary of the Mariners’ elite outfield defense both this year and in future seasons.
There are several hurdles in the way of a potential Verlander deal, most notably his no-trade clause. He could refuse to be traded to the Mariners, as they are not one of the 10 teams he selected to be exempt. This, and this alone, make any Verlander deal as unlikely as any other variable. Moreover, it's not public knowledge as to where Verlander or any other players are in the revocable waivers process, until they fully clear. Another team could claim him before the Mariners, as Verlander-alternative Marco Estrada was the other day. Alternatively, he could have fully cleared and be available to the entire league. If Seattle is having to compete, the chances for a deal slip from very likely to infinitesimal.
Beyond that, of course, the Tigers would have to be willing to make a deal. They have stated they won't move Verlander simply for salary relief, and are demanding prospects to build for the future. Considering the Astros are the team most frequently linked to Verlander, impact prospects are not something the Mariners can outbid anyone for. The Astros are notoriously parsimonious, which is the M's only saving grace in this and most regards, so if Seattle wanted to take on the entirety of Verlander's contract it might get them in the front door. Still, it's tough to know what the Tigers will demand in terms of players. If they are looking for potential stars, the Mariners have one that is eligible to deal, and Kyle Lewis should not be moved for the sake of a shot at a wild card, even if Verlander is helpful next year.
Maybe Nick Neidert moves the needle, along with taking the full contract? (Possibly) Maybe Andrew Moore, Braden Bishop, and some unheralded prospect could combine, Captain Planet-like? (Unlikely) It’s such an uncertain situation that it’s difficult to project. What we know is Verlander would improve the Mariners this year, in a situation where they could miss or make the playoffs by one or two games. He would probably improve them next year as well, although he’d limit their flexibility in 2018 and 2019 free agency. His (incredibly hypothetical) acquisition would thin an already threadbare farm system, but it could be argued the purpose of a farm system is to help the MLB club reach the playoffs and contend for a World Series, which Justin Verlander would do this year.
This question is 95-98% academic, but here we are, and here people have been peppering us for weeks. I ask you now, a simple question.
Do you want the Mariners to try to acquire Justin Verlander?
This poll is closed
Yes, they need an established pitcher to push for the playoffs and this is their best shot, even if it costs a top prospect (Lewis/Neidert)
Yes, but if it costs a top prospect (Lewis/Neidert) they should refuse and ride with what they’ve got.
No, with Paxton out the next few weeks it's not worth it/Verlander wouldn't move the needle enough
No, regardless of the situation, Verlander isn't worth the cost
(If these options are too limiting, feel free to make your own proposals below. I have tried to propose as realistic of scenarios as I can foresee.)