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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 9: Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish Dealt at the deadline(s)


We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Every year there is talk of a contender making a big deal for a front line starting pitcher. Every year there are a couple of also-rans with front line starting pitchers who could or should be dealt. Often those deals don’t happen for various reasons. This past summer, however, we saw two aces dealt, and both of them helped their teams reach the World Series.

The Dodgers were already cruising along quite nicely, leading the NL West by 14 games when they acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers. However, their ace, Clayton Kershaw, was on the disabled list at the time and it was not 100% certain when he’d be back at full strength. With every other cylinder firing nicely and the Dodgers poised to make a deep run in the playoffs, the Los Angeles brain trust didn’t want to chance things. They traded away a nice package of prospects — Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, and Brendon Davis — to get Darvish.

At the time Darvish had a 4.01 ERA with a 148/45 K/BB ratio in 137 innings across 22 starts for Texas. That’s not what he used to be, but the Dodgers felt that, with a few adjustments, he could return to his 2012-14 form. And, despite some time on the disabled list following the trade, he did improve after arriving in Los Angeles, lowering his ERA and seeing his strikeout rate spike and his walk rate dip in nine starts in August and September.

The Houston Astros were likewise cruising in their division by the end of July. Even so, when the non-waiver trade deadline passed with them making no moves of consequence, some Astros players publicly groused about how they were disappointed that the front office didn’t pull out all the stops to add a starter. By the end of August, however, the Detroit Tigers finally resigned themselves to a rebuild and convinced Justin Verlander to waive his no-trade rights and accept a trade to Houston. The Astros got the starter they sorely needed and the Tigers got pitching prospect Franklin Perez, outfield prospect Daz Cameron, and catcher Jake Rogers.

Verlander was, at one time, the best pitcher in baseball, winning the 2011 Cy Young and MVP Awards, and dominating pretty consistently for close to a decade. Some injuries and some mileage on the odometer had caused him to fall off in recent seasons however. At times — such as the second half of the 2016 season — he looked like his old dominant self. At other times, he looked more like a third or fourth starter than an ace. Which Verlander were the Astros getting?

Turns out they got 2011-vintage Verlander and watched him put up an insane line down the stretch. In five regular season starts he went 5-0 and allowed only four runs on 17 hits in 34 innings while striking out 43 and walking only five. He continued to dominate in the postseason, winning two games over the Red Sox in the ALDS and beating the Yankees twice — holding them to one run over 16 innings and striking them out 21 times — while winning the ALCS MVP Award.

The Astros and Dodgers would, of course, meet in the World Series. Verlander and Darvish would not meet face-to-face, but the former clearly out-pitched the latter.

Verlander wasn’t dominant. He allowed three runs in six innings while taking a no-decision in the Astros Game 2 win and then was hung with the loss despite allowing only two runs over six innings in Game 6. That was far better than Darvish, however, who was absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7, ultimately allowing nine runs — eight earned — in three and a third innings. It’s possible that he was tipping his pitches. It’s certain that that he didn’t get the job done.

Darvish is now a free agent and, his World Series meltdown notwithstanding, he’s still likely to get a plum deal to anchor a contender’s rotation. Verlander, who once was thought to be one of the more overpaid players in baseball, now looks like a relative bargain for the Astros, who will pay him $56 million over the next two seasons. His five-start stretch run is unrepeatable over two full seasons, but if he’s even close to the pitcher he showed that he can still be, these next two years could constitute the final push that puts his Hall of Fame case over the top.

Whatever happens with either of them, their trades in the summer of 2017 will form a large part of their legacies.

How long do you stay a fan of a team that left town?

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File this under “not a really deep thought, but there isn’t much going on this morning, so why not?”

I was catching up with the latest, and final, season of “The Americans” over the weekend. I will give no spoilers and ask that you do the same, but I want to talk about something that came up in the second episode.

The episode takes place in October 1987 and a character is listening to a Twins playoff game on the radio. He later talks about baseball and the Twins with some other characters. The context is not important, but the guy — probably in his mid-late 40s, living in the Washington D.C. area — makes a point to say that he has been a Twins fan since the beginning, and then says he was, in fact, a fan of the franchise back when they were still the Washington Senators.

In case you are unaware, the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota following the 1960 season and became the Twins. At the same time an expansion team, also called the Senators, was placed in D.C. to replace them. That franchise would stay in D.C. for 11 seasons before moving to Texas in 1972 to become the Rangers.

In light if that, am I the only one who has a hard time buying that such a man actually existed? How would the character, who was a kid when the original Senators moved, be a Twins fan some 26 years later?

There were relatively few televised baseball games back then. Just a game of the week and some out of town coverage of local teams. There was obviously no internet. Outside of the 1965 World Series, it’d be a shock if more than a couple of Twins games were broadcast to the D.C. area during the rest of the guy’s childhood. Maybe he kept up with the Senators players like Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison via box scores, baseball cards and The Sporting News, but I couldn’t imagine a D.C. guy raised on the Senators keeping up with the Twins through the 1970s and 1980s. Would he not become a new Senators fan or, eventually, a Rangers fan? Maybe, like so many people on the D.C. area, he picked up the Orioles as his team due to their 1960s-70s dominance? Any number of things could happen, but I’m struggling to imagine the existence of a Senators guy who becomes a hardcore Twins fans up to and including 1987.

All of that got me thinking about other relocated teams.

The Dodgers are the most famous example, of course, with the narrative being that Dodgers fans in Brooklyn felt betrayed by Walter O’Malley and thus turned their back on the club, later adopting the Mets as their rooting interest. The betrayal narrative is less pronounced with the Giants, but that’s the same general story with them too. I mean, there’s a reason the Mets picked orange and blue as their colors. They wanted to, and largely did, co-opt the old NL New York fans.

I’m sure a lot more Dodgers and Giants fans continued to follow their teams in California than would let on, given that many of the same players starred out there in the ensuing years, but that likely died out as those players retired. Bob Aspromonte was the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the bigs, retiring after the 1971 season. Willie Mays played through 1973. I assume NL fans in New York kept some nice thoughts for them — particularly because the Mets picked both of them up for the tail end of their careers — but I can’t see those guys rooting for, say, Steve Garvey and John Montefusco in 1979.


  • There likely aren’t many St. Louis Browns fans left — they last played in Missouri 65 years ago — but even if the ones they had in 1953 felt like rooting for the Cardinals was impossible, I bet most of their kids and grandkids became Cards fans;
  • The A’s fans in Philly — and later Kansas City — probably have a similar story. I mean, there’s a reason that franchise skipped town twice, so to expect undying love over the decades, with the Phillies and Royals around, is a bit much. The Philadelphia A’s glory years were like 90s years ago now anyway, and all of those fans are dead. The A’s modern glory years have all come in Oakland. No one in Philadelphia or Kansas City is looking to the California with an aching in their heart;
  • I could imagine someone’s grandfather in Milwaukee still thinking that the Braves are his team, but not many other people. The Braves won a World Series and two pennants in Milwaukee, but that was an awful long time ago and they moved to Atlanta before the A’s moved to Oakland. Don’t even get me started about Boston Braves fans. They all have to either be dead or have long since moved on. Following a team to a new city is a big ask, but following them to two new cities over 66 years seems pathological. UPDATE: OK, there are some pathological people out there.
  • I have some Nationals fan friends and they tell me that there is a small, weird contingent of Expos fans who root for Washington now. I get that since it wasn’t terribly long ago, but was Brad Wilkerson really a good enough reason to carry a torch? I’d like to talk to some of those people and ask them about their value system;
  • The only other team to move was the Seattle Pilots. They played one season in Seattle and no one would remember that if it wasn’t for Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four.” If you find someone claiming to be a Pilots fan in Seattle, you’ve found yourself a hipster peddling revisionist b.s.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words wasted on a couple of lines from a TV show, but as always, your thoughts are appreciated.