Detroit Tigers fans who were hoping to see Justin Verlander don the Old English “D” this season at Comerica Park will have to wait at least another year.
The former Tigers star agreed to a one-year, $25 million deal with the Houston Astros, his organization of the past four and a half seasons, on Wednesday, as first reported by his brother (and former Tigers farmhand) Ben Verlander.
The Astros had made a qualifying offer (one year, $18.4 million) this offseason, with the deadline for players to accept or decline arriving at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Rather than test the market, Verlander reupped in Houston. The contract also includes a player option for the 2023 season. (Of the 13 players handed qualifying offers, only San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt accepted.)
A reunion between the Tigers and Verlander seemed unlikely this offseason, as their goals seemed misaligned after Verlander missed nearly all of the abbreviated 2020 season — he threw six innings on Opening Day — and all of 2021 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
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The Tigers, even after signing lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, are in need of a veteran who can handle a full workload in the rotation, with youngsters Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal coming off their first full seasons in the majors, and fellow prospect Matt Manning looking to stick for a full season in 2022. The Tigers have veterans Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull on the roster, but both are question marks heading into 2022 due to injuries.
Still, nostalgia for the Tigers’ heydays in the 2010s kept hope for a J.V. return alive, especially after Verlander told the Free Press earlier this year that he had thought about returning to Detroit.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” Verlander said. “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.
“I need to get my elbow healthy first, 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 has a 2.45 ERA with 226 strikeouts and 85 walks in 477 innings with the Astros from 2017-20, a span that includes two All-Star teams, a third career no-hitter and the 2019 AL Cy Young award. The Astros acquired Verlander from the Tigers in August 2017 for catcher Jake Rogers (who also underwent Tommy John surgery this season), right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez and outfielder Daz Cameron. Cameron and Rogers have since made the majors with the Tigers, though they have not contributed much.
Verlander spent parts of 13 seasons with the Tigers, posting a 3.49 ERA with 2,373 strikleouts, 766 walks and a 1.191 WHIP in Detroit over 2,511 innings and 380 starts. The No. 2 overall pick in 2004, he debuted the majors by 2005, made six All-Star teams with the Tigers and won the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year and 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young awards. He threw two no-hitters (June 2007 and May 2011) with the Tigers and also finished second in Cy Young voting in 2012 and 2016.
In that interview with the Free Press, Verlander talked about his hope of pitching well into his 40s: “I’m just trying to push my timetable as far as I can possibly push it,” Verlander said.
Does that mean a reunion is still on the table, perhaps when the Tigers are further into their plans to contend in the American League again? Tigers fans will have to wait, and see Verlander spend another season with the Astros.
Free Press sports writer Evan Petzold contributed to this report.