Verlander re-signs with Astros, Tigers reunion was always more fairy tale than reality

Detroit News

Detroit — So much for that.

But as the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Though it would have been glorious to welcome Justin Verlander back to Detroit, it was never going to happen. Early Wednesday evening, news broke that Verlander turned down an $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Astros and then agreed to re-sign with the club.

His brother, former Tigers’ minor-leaguer Ben Verlander, reported that Justin agreed to a one-year deal worth $25 million, plus a player option for a second year.

From the beginning, though, the odds of the Tigers signing Verlander this winter were long against. Assuming he was going to turn down the qualifying offer and that he was seeking a multi-year deal, it was going to take at least $20 million a year to start a conversation. He’s 39 and coming off Tommy John surgery.

Taking an expensive risk on an older pitcher, even one with Verlander’s Hall of Fame track record, seemed to run counter to general manager Al Avila’s vow to take a measured approach to free agency and not spend like a drunken sailor this winter.

Committing $77 million and five years to left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez seemed another indication the Tigers weren’t chasing Verlander — at least not as a primary target. Especially since they are still very much in the hunt for one of the elite free agent shortstops — specifically, it seems, Carlos Correa, who will command a contract worth more than $30 million annually and $300 million full-term.

If the Tigers do add another starting pitcher, it was more likely to be a far less expensive one.

Verlander was never going to give the Tigers a reunion discount, nor should he have. He was not looking to come back and be a mentor to a young staff or help the franchise sell tickets every fifth day.

This is one of the most decorated pitchers of his or any other generation. Two-time Cy Young Award winner, Most Valuable Player, more than 3,000 strikeouts and 200 wins, a career WAR of 72.2, an opponent slash-line over 16 seasons of .228/.287/.365.

He’s looking to come back and dominate. That’s his MO. Yes, he’s got more than 3,000 innings under his belt (2,988 in the regular season, 187.2 postseason). Yes, he’s pitched only six innings in two years coming off major elbow surgery. The risk was clear.

But he was throwing 95-96 mph at his showcase last month and his arm and body weren’t even close to being fully built up. He’s going to go through the usual command and consistency issues all pitchers do coming off Tommy John, but who is going to bet against him being a productive pitcher at some point next season?

There were at least eight teams, not counting the Tigers, who were courting him. The Dodgers, Giants, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays , Braves and White Sox were all reportedly interested.

Maybe there is still a part of Verlander’s heart that remains a Tiger. There’s still a good chance there will be an English D on his cap when his plaque goes on the wall at Cooperstown.

But Avila, wisely, kept his heart out of it. Sentimentality and nostalgia often get in the way of winning and Verlander never was a target for the Tigers.

The reality is, bringing Verlander back didn’t make sense for the Tigers right now. Nor did coming back to Detroit in 2022 make sense for Verlander.

Which stinks, for sure. We don’t get many fairy tale sports stories around here. Would’ve been nice.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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