Justin Verlander: An Ace’s Impact
It’s not everyday an ace pitcher gets placed on the trade block. It certainly is not everyday a franchise player gets moved by the same team that drafted him almost 13 years ago. And very rarely does a potential Hall of Fame pitcher waltz into a Clubhouse for the first time and say “Let’s go to work”.
But make no mistake. When one does, you pay attention.
When Justin Verlander walked into the Astros Clubhouse, it reversed the misfortune that had fallen upon a team struggling to reignite the spark they played with for much of the year. With almost the entire pitching staff having seen a few turns on the disabled list, it resurrected the question of if the Astros would be able to hold together come postseason baseball.
This was not the first time questions had arisen about the pitching staff in Houston. Coming into the 2017 season,many believed the Astros’ pitching rotation was not stout enough to take on the foes of October, putting a lot of stress on a rather young team to prove them wrong.
What started early in the off-season was a giant game of chicken, with the likes of Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole and, yes, Jose Quintana, as well as fringe names like Jeff Samardzija and Ervin Santana being thrown on a proverbial trade table with talks progressing and regressing about as quick as a 9 inning baseball game.
Many were underwhelmed, to put it nicely, when the trade deadline came and went with the Astros not acquiring more than Francisco Liriano, despite efforts to acquire stud Closer Zach Britton, Rangers ace Yu Darvish and even a mystery reliever. Many of the cities’ biggest fans began feeling with both front line starters Keuchel and McCullers on the shelf with injuries, the Astros would be unprepared to take on a playoff caliber team when stakes are at it’s highest in October.
What followed after, was the worst stretch of baseball the Astros have played in 2017. Players were admittedly disappointed with the front office for their lack of action in the days leading up to the deadline and after. In the month of August the Astros were 11-17, easily it’s worst monthly win-loss record of the year.
It wasn’t until the last day of August that the Astros began to get the ball rolling on the trade front. After the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st, trades gets considerably harder to be pulled together. With Justin Verlander’s $56 Million contract, a full no-trade clause in play, and a career’s worth Detroit Tiger memories, many believed trade talks with the Tigers wouldn’t gain much traction.
It wasn’t until two seconds before both the dreadful month of August and the waiver deadline expired that the Astros pushed all their chips to the middle of the table and acquired Verlander, a future Hall of Famer who waived his no-trade clause in order to get the deal approved at the final second (pretty much literally). Sending back two blue chip prospects in Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers, the price was fair given the Tigers would be paying $16 Million of Verlander’s remaining two years on contract.
The trade did exactly as it was supposed to, igniting the spark the clubhouse had been missing. Verlander’s veteran presence and playoff pedigree added into a clubhouse full of youth and veteran leadership has been a recipe for success, and Verlander has not let the Hurricane Harvey-recovering city of Houston down since he toed the mound for the first time in an Astros uniform, going 4-0 in as many games, allowing only 2 ERs (0.64 ERA) and 11 hits while striking out 32 and walking 5 in 32 innings.
The team has gone 16-7 in the month of September with 5 games remaining, showing the impact Verlander has already had in the Clubhouse. But Verlander is not a Randy Johnson or Carlos Beltran in that he will only be around for a few months. Verlander is locked into Houston for the next two years. The impact he can have as one of the most experienced veterans the game knows today can be enormous for the Astros.
With guys like Lance McCullers, Joe Musgrove, and Francis Martes showing flashes of just how good they can be in the Majors League, imagine what they can learn from a guy who has seen and done it all since his debut in 2005. Verlander is one of baseball’s last workhorses, leading the MLB in average pitches per start at around 109, and seems to be getting better with age as his velocity can still ring up to triple digits. The kind of secrets and tips he has learned to not only survive but succeed in the show could go a long way in helping a young and inconsistent staff turn the corner and develop into star players at baseball’s highest level.
Not only does this apply to the MLB roster, but also the guys banging on the door to the Big Leagues, most notably first round picks Forrest Whitley and JB Bukauskas. Perhaps the most talented pitching prospects down in the farm, Whitley is expected to be a contributor for the Astros sometime in 2018 while Bukauskas is projected to be one of the quicker risers from the 2017 draft class. Justin Verlander’s impact and mentorship to a number of top prospects in the system could be a huge plus as fans hope some of Verlander may rub off onto the next generation.
All in all, the acquisition of Verlander goes far beyond the cost of the trade or price of the contract. A pitcher of Justin Verlander’s caliber doesn’t come around too often. His resumé speaks for itself as one of the game’s best pitchers in Detroit, and he is rediscovering that form again. Keeping at this pace could prove to be the final piece to the puzzle as the Astros look to win their first World Series in franchise history in October. Given the two years remaining on his contract with the Houston Astros, this won’t be his last hurrah, but more like an opportunity to leave behind a new legacy with a new team. So far, he’s off to a blistering start.
Verlander goes for his 5th straight win to start his Astros career tonight against the Texas Rangers, whom the Astros look to sweep after taking the Silver Boot and knocking the Rangers out of playoff contention in the previous two nights.
**Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images**