Did other teams miss out on claiming Verlander on waivers with what he did with the Astros?
For years, we have criticized the Astros for not making that big splash to get better. It seems like the most significant trade deadline acquisitions have been Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, and Carlos Beltran in 2004. Yes, Beltran was traded on June 24th that year, it was still an impactful move. Greg Rajan did a piece looking back at the best and worst deadline deals.
Bagwell was not a trade to get better for that season, but he did have a heck of a career. The Astros have made a few head-scratching trades over the years but made a curious one this past year by trading for Francisco Liriano to be the lefty reliever.
The Astros did have the best record in the AL at the time at 69-36. So there was not a big desire to trade away talent for a rental, such as Yu Darvish. Rumors said the Astros tried, but couldn’t find the right fit. Depending on who you talk to, the Astros were after Justin Verlander, but the two teams never found a deal before the deadline.
Any regrets from the big market teams?
Shortly after the non-waiver trade deadline passed, Verlander cleared waivers. Sometimes Buster Olney has random thoughts and tweets it. Tuesday AM, he tweeted asking if the big market teams would claim Verlander if they could do it again? He specifically mentions the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.
Olney’s point was with how good Verlander pitched in those five games and in the playoffs, his salary would be worth it. This seems like hindsight being 20-20, but I’ll play the game. If those teams knew for sure that he would have pitched at that level, they would have definitely claimed him. It was a gamble; some thought that Verlander wasn’t worth the money and prospects to get him.
What starters did those teams get?
Yankees – Sonny Gray and Jamie Garcia were acquired prior to the trade deadline. Gray went on to have a decent season with the Yankees with a 4-7 record with a 3.72 ERA. In the playoffs, Gray was 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA. He struggled versus the Indians in the ALDS but got the win over the Astros in the ALCS. Garcia’s time with the Yankees was short. With Michael Pineda going out for the season, they could have used Verlander.
Cubs – None, but they did add reliever Justin Wilson. The Cubs pitching staff was not the primary issue; the hitting wasn’t up to par. Rumors had the Cubs as Verlander’s preferred destination, but they didn’t see the need to add. Plus, they had already added Jose Quintana earlier in the season.
Red Sox – None, but they did add reliever Addison Reed. When you have a rotation as the Red Sox did, they felt confident in what they had. Honestly, the lineup never recovered from losing David Ortiz to retirement. They needed and still need more hitting versus pitching.
Dodgers – They added Yu Darvish at the last minute before the non-waiver trade deadline. Darvish was everything they could ask for, except for the World Series. After the trade, Darvish had a 4-3 record with a 3.44 ERA with the Dodgers. In his first two postseason starts with the Dodgers, he was 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA. In the World Series, he was 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA.
Too risky at the time.
Let’s assume the Cubs did claim Verlander through waivers. The Tigers were never going to let him go without getting prospects in return to justify trading the long-time Tiger. Trading Verlander was not solely a salary dump, but also to get players to help in the future.
To a team claiming him, they would have had to take on the entire $56 million salary for two seasons. Teams like the Dodgers are trying to keep the payroll at a certain amount to not pay too much luxury tax. Adding $28 million per year would hurt most of those teams in that situation.
The Astros factors.
To make the deal work, the Tigers agreed to pay $8 million per season for Verlander. That money was then turned into Joe Smith for the next two seasons. The Astros were not too concerned about taking on a sizeable short team salary like Verlander’s to win. In a few years, that will be a different story as the players get closer to free agency.
The Astros also had one driving factor that tipped the scale in their favor. Hurricane Harvey had just hit the Houston area. While the community was Houston Strong, the Astros wanted to distract those stricken by the storm with exciting news. Trading for Verlander did not help to rebuild their lives but did allow them an escape. Verlander also wanted to come and help the community as well.
Back to the Cubs, any players included in the trade could not have been on the 40-man roster. The players the Astros traded were not on the roster, but they were players the Tigers wanted. Plus, Verlander had to agree to a trade because he had the no-trade clause. There were so many different factors making acquiring Verlander impossible.
The Astros were able to wait a whole month to monitor how Verlander was doing. At the last minute, the Astros felt confident enough to deal the prospects and take on the money. At the time Verlander was placed on waivers, there was too much concern if he would accept a trade. Are all the other teams regretting not blocking the Astros? Probably, but there is always regret when you miss your chance with an ace. Just a few thoughts.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***