The Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros pulled off a last-second blockbuster deal that sent former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to the first-place Astros, seconds before the 11:59 ET trade deadline Thursday evening.
That ended a day of drama that had the erstwhile Tigers franchise pitcher in and out of a deal to the Astros, who have the best record in the American League. In the end, the Tigers dealt another big-salary player for prospects – they traded Justin Upton to the Los Angeles Angels earlier – and this time ended up with a significant prospect haul, nabbing three of the talent-rich Astros’ top 11 prospects.
The Astros will send right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez (No. 3), outfielder Daz Cameron (No. 9) and catcher Jake Rogers (No. 11) to Detroit. The Tigers, meanwhile, will pick up $8 million of Verlander’s $28 million salary in both 2018 and 2019.
With a $22 million vesting option for 2020, Verlander has up to $78 million remaining on his contract after this season and full no-trade protection, which made a deal burdensome. But the two clubs got it done with not more than seconds to spare before Verlander would no longer be postseason-eligible for the Astros this year.
So ends the Verlander era in Detroit, which began with the right-hander winning the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year award and ended 11 years later with 183 wins, 2,373 strikeouts, a Cy Young and MVP award in 2011, five top-5 Cy Young finishes and two trips to the World Series.
That’s exactly what the Astros are hoping to get from Verlander, 34. Houston started the year on pace for its greatest season ever and still has the AL’s best record, at 80-53.
However, after starting off a red-hot 68-34, the Astros had lost 20 of 31 games entering Thursday night; that putrid stretch started just two days before the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline, when GM Jeff Luhnow largely stood pat, drawing criticism from left-hander Dallas Keuchel, among others.
With both Keuchel and right-hander Lance McCullers ailing for much of the second half, the impetus remained to add a big arm. Verlander’s contract made him a rare star who could slip through waivers in August. And as the Astros faltered, Verlander came on strong, posting a 2.41 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 67 1/3 second-half innings. Overall, he’s 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, and 176 strikeouts in 172 innings.
The final hurdle was agreeing on a prospect package and convincing Verlander to accept the trade.
Both tasks were achieved, apparently at the last possible moment.