He got his ring. Now, will he get his reunion?
That’s a theme of this offseason for Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers — whether the two sides get the band back together, now that the Tigers are exiting their rebuild and appear poised to contend again.
Verlander, who won a Cy Young and MVP with Detroit and led the Tigers to five postseason appearances and two World Series, has expressed interest in returning to his original franchise. And, now, the long-time face of the franchise is weighing in, too.
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera hopped on Verlander’s Instagram account Thursday night and fueled speculation that something might soon be in the works when he posted: “Come back to you familia the D.”
We’re a ways away from knowing if the reunion actually will happen. Free-agency doesn’t begin until five days after the conclusion of the World Series, and even then, things could be slow to develop, especially given the dicey state of collective bargaining between the players and the owners.
Plus, Verlander, 38, is coming off Tommy John surgery, and missed the entire 2021 season.
But the Tigers are on the record that they plan to spend significantly this offseason, coming off a 77-85 season that hinted at good things to come, and soon. GM Al Avila has declared pitching a priority.
Astros ownership, too, has expressed interest in Verlander returning to Houston, which he helped lead to the 2017 World Series championship, after Detroit dealt him that August. Whether Verlander wants back remains to be seen. There seems to be some friction between the sides. Verlander has said the Astros wouldn’t let him rehab at team facilities, and there was a report, unconfirmed, earlier this month that Astros players balked at Verlander throwing a ceremonial first pitch in the playoffs.
Verlander made just one start in the shortened 2020 season, before having surgery. He won the Cy Young (his second) in 2019 and finished second in the voting in 2018.
Still, his best years were in Detroit, which drafted him No. 2 overall in 2004, and saw him win American League rookie-of-the-year honors in 2006 and the Cy Young and MVP in 2011. He was 183-114 with a 3.49 ERA with two no-hitters during his Tigers tenure, which came to an end on the last day of August in 2017, when Verlander finally OK’d a trade to the Astros.
Tigers fans were crushed, realizing the run of prosperity — five playoff appearances in eight years — was officially over. But Tigers brass, privately, were mulling the idea of Verlander returning once the team got good again. They figured the timing could work out, with Verlander’s Astros contract expiring around the same time the Tigers were about to go playoff-hunting again. Though, they didn’t factor in major arm surgery.
During a recent interview with 97.1 The Ticket, Verlander’s long-time Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, cautioned that you have to be careful not to pay for sentimentality. In other words, Detroit doesn’t want to sign Verlander just for ceremonial purposes, so the ace right-hander can finish his Hall of Fame career where it all began. Verlander, of course, has proven multiple times he can rebound — and in dominant fashion — from injuries, albeit he’s never faced a comeback this daunting.
Starting pitching isn’t the Tigers’ only offseason priority. They desperately need a shortstop, and if they get a good one, they’re looking at a nine-figure contract. They also want a catcher, though the free-agent options there are extremely limited. They also could use another starting pitching, even if they sign Verlander, given long-term injuries to Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull.
But they have the money to spend, with only Cabrera signed beyond 2022, and team CEO Christopher Ilitch has said he’d spend when the “time is right.”
That time appears to be now — Ilitch said as much weeks ago — perhaps for a Verlander reunion, too.
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