Justin Verlander has a 4.00 ERA and $167 million coming his way

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Even though the Tigers still had Justin Verlander signed for two more years, they signed their right-hander to a huge contract this spring that essentially made him the highest-paid pitcher ever. He’ll receive $28 million per year every year from 2015-2019.

That’s kind of a scary thought right now, isn’t it? Verlander gave up seven more runs Thursday in a loss to the White Sox. He fell to 10-8 with a 3.99 ERA for the season. Six times this year he’s allowed at least five earned runs in an outing. Only Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Jeremy Guthrie, with seven such outings, have done so more frequently.

That’s certainly not to say Verlander has been all bad. He has eight outings in which he’s allowed one or no earned runs, including two this month. His ERA ranks just 24th in the AL, but he is sixth in strikeouts and seventh in innings pitched. He’s hardly been a liability.

What is worrying is that Verlander’s average fastball has tumbled to 92.7 mph this year, according to Fangraphs’ Baseball Info Solutions data. He came in at 94.3 mph in 2012, and he was in the 95-96 mph range each of the three years before that.

Verlander isn’t falling apart, but it seems pretty likely that his peak has already come and gone. Before his Cy Young season in 2011, his career best ERA in six seasons was 3.37 and WHIP was 1.16. The mid-3.00 ERAs seem like the better bet for the future than the mid-2.00s of 2011 and ’12. And that’s probably the optimistic scenario for the Tigers, considering that he was baseball’s hardest working pitcher from 2009-2102.

The Tigers still had Verlander under control for two more years when they extended him this spring. Technically, it was announced as a brand new seven-year, $180 million contract, but in reality, it was a five-year, $140 million extension for 2015-19. At that rate, the deal had very little upside. Verlander needs to remain one of baseball’s best pitchers to justify that kind of salary, and that’s an awful lot to ask. There aren’t many pitchers in history who can claim to have had an eight- or 10-year run as one of baseball’s best.

If not for the extension, the Tigers would currently owe Verlander $27 million through the end of 2014. That sounds a whole lot better to me than $167 million through 2019.

Cubs won’t make Kyle Schwarber available in trade talks

Kyle Schwarber
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Cubs won’t deal Kyle Schwarber this winter, despite multiple inquires from teams around the league. Schwarber is approaching his first year of arbitration and will remain under team control for another three seasons before reaching free agency in 2022.

The decision comes on the heels of one of the strongest seasons of the 25-year-old outfielder’s short career. Over 137 games and 510 PA for the Cubs, he proved a passable defender in left field and batted .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs, an .823 OPS, and 3.2 fWAR in 2018. He also led the National League in intentional walks, with 20, and bumped up his total walks from 59 in 2017 to 78.

Despite his marked improvements from previous years, Schwarber’s performance still left something to be desired — specifically against left-handed pitchers, who held the slugger to a paltry .224/.352/.303 with four extra-base hits across 91 PA. Still, it’s evident the Cubs feel Schwarber is capable of strengthening his splits in the years to come, and they might stand to get more value from him on the field than they would in a trade this offseason.

Of course, that’s not to say the Cubs intend to pass the Winter Meetings in total silence, especially as they’ll be seeking bullpen and catching depth in advance of their 2019 run at the division title. As club president Theo Epstein remarked last week, “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”