The Tigers’ Last Chance To Get Something From The Justin Verlander Trade

MLB Trade Rumors

There once was a time when Justin Verlander had only played for the Tigers. He was drafted by them with the second overall pick in 2004 and then cemented himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball in the years that followed. He twice signed contracts that extended the club’s control over his services, once in 2010 and another in 2013. That latter contract ran through his age-36 season and was signed while the club was one of the best in the league. They were fresh off a World Series appearance in 2012 and would eventually get to a four-year streak of winning the AL Central in 2014. It wouldn’t have been outlandish to expect him to be a Tiger for life.

However, the fortunes of the franchise changed in the years after that, as they slipped into the basement of the division in 2015. They bounced back with an 86-win showing in 2016 but still missed the playoffs, then were not doing so great again in 2017. It was decided that it was time to turn things over, with the Tigers making two huge deals at the waiver deadline that year. They first traded Justin Upton to the Angels and then Verlander to the Astros. The latter deal was Verlander, a player to be named later and cash for prospects Franklin Pérez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers. The PTBNL was later reported as outfielder Juan Ramirez.

It’s now been over five years since that franchise-altering pivot. The Astros went on to win their first World Series a few months after acquiring Verlander, though that title is now forever asterisked in the minds of many baseball fans due to the trashcan-banging scandal. But subsequent contracts kept Verlander in Houston through 2022 as the club continued to be among the best in the league. They made the ALCS in each of those seasons, making it to the World Series again in 2019 and 2021 before winning their second title last year.

As for the Tigers, they have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, continually rebuilding during that entire stretch. That 86-win showing in 2016 is still their last winning season. They’ve also reaped little from those future-focused moves back in 2017. Right-hander Grayson Long, who came over in the Upton deal, topped out at Double-A and retired in 2019. The PTBNL in the deal was later reported as Elvin Rodríguez, who made seven appearances with the Tigers last year but was outrighted at season’s end and is now with the Rays on a minor league deal.

As for the Verlander deal, Pérez was generally considered the headliner at the time as he was a highly-touted prospect then. Baseball America had him in the #54 slot of their top 100 at the start of 2017 and bumped him to #35 going into 2018. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him badly, mostly in the shoulder. He was only able to throw 19 1/3 innings in the minors in 2018 and 7 2/3 in 2019. The minor leagues were canceled by the pandemic in 2020 and then shoulder surgery wiped out 2021 for Pérez. He was released by the Tigers and re-signed, eventually tossing 25 1/3 innings in the Complex League last year but with a 9.59 ERA. He appears to still be in the organization but it’s hard to count on him for anything now after so much missed development time. He’s 25 years old and has yet to crack Double-A, outside of a brief stint at that level prior to the trade.

Cameron was also a highly-touted young outfielder, having cracked BA’s top 100 list in 2016. Though he had slipped off by the time of the trade, he was still an exciting young player. He made his way to the big leagues but couldn’t do much with the opportunity. He got into 73 major league games over the past three years but hit just .201/.266/.330 and struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances. He was put on waivers in November, getting claimed by the Orioles and subsequently outrighted.

That leaves Rogers as the last hope for the Tigers to salvage the deal in some way. Arguably seen as the least significant piece of the deal at the time, Rogers was Houston’s #20 prospect at Baseball America coming into 2017. The catcher hasn’t been able to provide much value to the Tigers so far, but that’s not really his fault. He required Tommy John surgery in September of 2021, which wiped out his entire 2022 season. Prior to that, he was showing some positive signs in a small sample. He got into 38 games in 2021 and hit six home runs. Despite striking out in 36.2% of his plate appearances, his .239/.306/.496 was above average, resulting in a 116 wRC+.

He’s now back from that long layoff and showing encouraging signs in a small sample again. His 28.3% strikeout rate this year is still high but it’s an improvement from his previous work. He’s also nearly doubled his walked rate from 8.7% in 2021 to 15.2% this year. His .237/.370/.447 batting line on the season amounts to a 135 wRC+.

This is a tiny sample of 46 plate appearances in 15 games and will surely change. However, Rogers doesn’t need to hit like a superstar to be valuable since he’s considered a strong defensive backstop. In his limited time in the big leagues, he has four Defensive Runs Saved. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus gave him negative grades for his framing prior to the Tommy John but he’s in the positive range so far this year. He’s thrown out 16 of 39 attempted base stealers in his career, a 41% rate that’s well above average, though he’s nabbed just one of six this year.

Rogers’ career thus far is so limited that it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions. Thanks to the lost season, he has just 88 major league games under his belt despite now being 28 years old. But given his reputation as a strong defensive catcher, even something near league average offense would make him a useful contributor. He’s shown the potential to be more than that, hitting 12 home runs already in barely half a season of cumulative work. He’s yet to reach arbitration but is slated to get there this winter and is on pace to reach free agency after 2026.

It’s highly likely that the Verlander trade will eventually be seen as a big miss for the Tigers overall. Fans had to watch an iconic player win two rings elsewhere while the highly-touted young players they got in return couldn’t meet expectations and the team posted miserable results overall. But if Rogers can keep serving as a solid defender behind the plate who launches a ball over the wall every once in a while, he can keep it from going down as an utter disaster.

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