Atlanta Braves Want Pitching: Could Aim for Justin Verlander

Sep 28, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) smiles from the dugout before the game against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Game called for bad weather after 5 innings. Tigers win 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are signalling that big changes are coming for them and that could make an opportunity for the Atlanta Braves to take care of a large off-season need.

As discussed in a previous piece, the Atlanta Braves have money this off-season. However, for lack of a worse descriptive term, the 2017 Free Agent class is a blob of meh.

Naturally, the Braves could look elsewhere for talent and it was suggested by our own Alan Carpenter that looking east could be an option…far east.  However, there’s  another idea up the ol’ sleeve and there are quite a few connections that could make it far more possible than Shohei Otani.

As hungry as Cookie Monster is for cookies, the Atlanta Braves are equally hungry for starting pitching – 2 pitchers are on the shopping list.  The trade market is likely the best way to acquire the best talent, but at a price.

However, there’s some big news that dropped in the Motor City recently that could cost less of a prospect package, but much more green.  In an end-of-season press conference, Detroit’s GM Al Avila uttered some ominous words that could mean that the Tigers are going into rebuild mode.

“Changes are coming…”

“We want to get younger. We want to get leaner. We want to run the organization without having to go over our means. We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time.”

Let’s break that down…

Jun 9, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) talks with San Diego Padres Justin Upton (10) after a single by Upton in the third inning of their game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Ugly Numbers

Take one look at the Detroit Tigers payroll over the last few years and one can see that Avila’s concerns are valid.  Just last year, their payroll jumped over 200 million.

Just 5 years ago, their payroll sat at 112 million. That’s over a 90 million dollar increase in half a decade!  Madness.

But there’s an elephant in this room, and although I don’t recall any “small” elephants, this one is MASSIVE. Below are the list of players  that have no trade clauses for the Detroit Tigers:

Yes. These are their 5 highest paid players. In 2017 alone, those 5 will cost Detroit 114 million dollars, and will cost that much through at least 2020. Brutal!

If the Tigers are going to cut payroll long-term and get younger, it’s going to have to come at the expense of these players, and trading one of them might not be enough as Detroit already has 176 million committed to the 2017 payroll and that isn’t factoring in Cameron Maybin‘s 9 million dollar option, Francisco Rodriguez‘s 6 million dollar option, or their 6 arbitration eligible players.

Who Else Could Avila Be Thinking About?

Anibal Sanchez?  Possible, but didn’t have a great year.  J.D. Martinez?  Sure, but not of interest to the Braves.  Ian Kinsler?  Ditto.

It’s worth noting that both Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann have just signed with the Tigers and it’s not common practice to trade players 1 year into their new deals.  While it’s possible that they could be shopped considering the tone in Avila’s quote, I wouldn’t bank on it.  Both Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander make the most sense, but we’ll only discuss one of those in today’s exercise.

So what do you do with an aging, expensive MLB team that fell short of the 2017 playoffs that has a weak farm system?

I think we all know the answer.  SELL!!!!  And I think the Braves can help.

Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s Get Verlander in a Braves Uniform, Shall We?

Justin Verlander is a rich man…actually and metaphorically. He has made nearly 150 million dollars just through his MLB salary, likely to make another 100 million in the next 4 years, and is engaged to be married to Kate Upton, whom many people think is the most beautiful woman in the world.

He had a career resurgence this year by staying healthy and increasing his K-rate back to his glory days.

After putting up back to back sub-3 WAR years, Verlander had a 5.2 WAR in 2016, which, according to Fangraphs, was worth 41.5 million. For a guy that is already getting paid 28 million dollars, there’s still some surplus value there, and that is important to understand in this exercise.

Verlander has a no-trade clause. He also has 10&5 rights which means he’s been in the league for 10 years and 5 consecutive years with 1 team therefore he can veto any trade that comes his way.

It’s very likely that Justin Verlander is quite comfortable in Detroit and there aren’t many places in  which he’d be willing to accept a trade, but Atlanta could be one of those places.

Check this out, from Verlander himself:

Matt Kemp grew up a Braves fan and in his piece from The Player Tribune he discussed how it was a dream come true to don a Braves uniform.  Would Verlander have the same feeling being traded to the Braves?  We can hope, can’t we?

But…Age and Durability?

If you have concerns about Verlander, those concerns would revolve around his contract and his age:  34 as camps open next year.

His contract of $28 million per season runs through 2019, and there’s a decent chance that he’d ask for a 2020 option ($22 million) to be guaranteed in exchange for accepting a trade… through his age 37 season.

That said:  if the Braves want him, they can definitely afford that kind of coin.

As for his age, there are several reasons to ignore those concerns:

  • 8 consecutive seasons of 200+ innings and 10 of 11 (141.2 in 2015)
  • 30 starts or more for 10 seasons, missing only 2015 (20 ML starts)
  • 52.6 cumulative fWAR
  • Ranks 74th all time in pitching fWAR (Clayton Kershaw is 72nd; Tim Hudson was 81st… in several more seasons).
  • In the next year, he could pass Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Jack Morris, and a lot more.
  • He is a strikeout pitcher for a new park that could use more K’s… given the foul territory situation.
  • Moving to the National League should make him better.
  • Moving to the NL East might make him even better than that.

He’s been durable and consistent.  His fastball averaged 93.5 mph in 2016.  While peaking at 95.6, it was 93.6 way back in 2008.  His slider was actually clocked at a career-high 88.0 in 2016.

Justin Verlander may not be a freak of nature like Nolan Ryan, but his track record is starting to look like that.

But let’s take a look at what it would take to acquire the front-liner.

John Coppolella - from his twitter account (@Braves)

John Coppolella – from his twitter account (@Braves)

The Cost to Acquire

Justin Verlander is expensive, make no mistake. However, that doesn’t mean that the Braves can simply get him on a salary dump as he was worth his contract last year and the Tigers aren’t just going to give him away.

However, just like Brian McCann, the places that Verlander would consider being traded to are likely slim therefore the package might not be as large as one might expect. If the Braves can take Verlander’s contract and provide them with a few players that might make others expendable in other deals, this could really work out.

Here’s my proposal:

– Braves get Justin Verlander

– Tigers get Mallex Smith, Sean Newcomb, and Rob Whalen from Atlanta

First off, let me say that there are not many players in the Braves system that I’d like to trade period, but I really don’t want to see Mallex Smith in another uniform, so let me explain the sole reason I included him:  the Tigers would require it.

Last year, the Tigers had one of the worst outfield defenses in the entire Major Leagues with all 3 of their regulars coming in at well-below average.  Cameron Maybin is slated to be their CFer in 2017 if they want to keep him.

Picking up Maybin’s option means the Tigers will have to spend another $9 million.  Including Mallex in the deal is likely a must as it makes their OF defense much better, saves them 9 million more dollars to go along with Verlander’s 28 million, and makes them younger in the process.

Immediately, Coppy would have the Tigers’ attention with such an offer.

If the Braves are truly going after 2-3 SP pieces this year, then the likelihood of needing Newcomb or Whalen goes down – particularly since Verlander’s deal extends for at least 3 more years.

As discussed yesterday, all of Newcomb, Whalen, and Mallex are part of the organizational surplus, so the impact on the Braves in the long run is quite low.  They would still have pitchers like Blair, Gant, Perez, et al waiting in the wings as needed.

It would hurt severely from a personal perspective to lose our own, especially one with the charisma of Mallex, but to ‘get’ you have to ‘give’ too.

Justin Verlander would be one of those top shelf pitchers who would be worth such a cost, and it is certainly not every day that such a player is made available… if indeed Avila is serious about reducing the payroll in Detroit.

Well, that’s a wrap folks!  I hope you enjoyed the piece. If you don’t like the package and come up with another on your own, please feel free to share it! Or if you despise the idea all around, let us hear about it in the comments. Let’s say it together. 1, 2, 3…

Go Braves!

Alan Carpenter collaborated and contributed to this post.

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