Justin Verlander: ‘I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about’ returning to Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

Justin Verlander is set to be a free agent after this season.

Verlander has pitched for the Houston Astros since 2017, but he isn’t ruling out a reunion with the Detroit Tigers. He admits he has pondered a return, but he doesn’t want to focus too much on the future.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” Verlander told the Free Press, after breaking down his 2011 MVP season. “Yeah, of course. I loved playing there. I love the city. I love the fans. Yes, I do think about it. Ultimately, the decision comes down to what’s best for my career. If that aligns with that possibility, then maybe it does.”

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A 16-year MLB veteran, Verlander is recovery from Tommy John surgery. He had elbow surgery in October 2020 and isn’t expected to pitch in the majors again until 2022.

“I need to get my elbow healthy first,” Verlander said, “and then I don’t even know what the next steps are. I’m a free agent, and I have no plan. For the first time, I’m entering free agency. We’ll just see what happens.”

Verlander played for the Tigers for 13 seasons, from 2005-17, until he was traded to the Astros in exchange for three prospects: right-hander Franklin Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron.

For the Tigers, Verlander tossed 2,511 innings over 380 starts. He had a 3.49 ERA and 2,373 strikeouts, along with winning the American League Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young (2011) and MVP (2011). He finished second in Cy Young award voting in the 2012 and 2016 seasons, adding a third-place finish in 2009.

The Tigers selected Verlander with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 MLB draft.

“Yes, I mean, I’m human,” Verlander said. “It’s a city that means a lot to me and I grew up in front of and had a lot of accomplishments there. So yeah, of course I do (think about returning).”

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Verlander pitched the Tigers to a pair of World Series appearances, falling short in the 2006 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals — the same year Verlander earned Rookie of the Year with a 3.63 ERA in 186 innings — and then losing in the 2012 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Does Verlander, 38, still have a goal to win a World Series for the Tigers?

“That’s another one of those things that I just don’t really like to talk about too much,” Verlander said. “If it happens, it happens.”

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In Houston, Verlander won his first World Series in 2017 and second AL Cy Young Award in 2019 with now-Tigers manager AJ Hinch at the helm. He has a 43-15 record with a 2.45 ERA in 477 innings across 74 starts in his career with the Astros.

For now, Verlander is focused on his Tommy John rehabilitation. The recovery is taxing, both mentally and physically. He knows he must get back to full strength before he deeply thinks about his next move as a free agent.

“I have to not allow myself to get out too far in a timeline,” Verlander said. “I keep things in a very short window for good and bad reasons. If things are going bad, it’s like, ‘OK, turn the page, focus on the next one.’ If they’re going good, it’s the same, like, ‘Don’t be complacent, stay in the moment and keep working hard.’ I take that approach with everything, and I’m taking that approach with this rehab, too. I can’t think about what I’m going to do next year or five years from now or 10 years from now.”

But there’s no doubt Verlander has felt a desire to return to the Tigers.

He has spoken with his younger brother, Ben Verlander, about possibly reuniting with the fans, the city and his old organization before retirement, which isn’t expected to happen anytime soon.

“It feels like it’d be right,” Ben told the Free Press. “It feels like it’d be poetic. Knowing how much Detroit means to Justin, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. And Justin wants to pitch for a long time still. By no means is he coming up on the last year of his career.

“I think it would just be super poetic if that happened. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it ends up happening a few years down the road.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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