Report: Cubs Were Verlander’s First Choice, Astros Were Last-Second Fallback

Ever since early July, reports had linked the Cubs and Tigers in talks for high-priced veteran starter Justin Verlander. Though it obviously never materialized in the form of actual (but still metaphorical) fire, the smoke has remained so thick over the last two months that it’s almost blocked out the sun in the rumorsphere.

The Astros took over as the front-runner for Verlander’s services a while back, though the Cubs remained engaged in talks with Detroit the whole while. Even after trading for Jose Quintana and a pair of Verlander’s Tigers teammates, the teams kept an open dialogue. All signs pointed to it being a matter of due diligence on the Cubs’ part, given their lack of prospect capital and real need for another starter.

And that’s probably why things didn’t progress further at the playoff-eligibility deadline, though it sounds like Verlander wanted them to.

That explains the conflicting reports from late Thursday night that had the deal with Houston falling apart after Verlander refused to waive his no-trade clause. He knew he was going to be headed out of town one way or the other, so he was basically playing chicken with the deadline and giving the Cubs an opportunity to pony up.

But ponying up meant parting with three really solid prospects — Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers — the type of value the Cubs simply couldn’t offer. Verlander told the Tigers he wouldn’t make a decision until the Cubs were absolutely out of the picture. Which he why he initially said no when approached about the ageed-upon deal between the Tigers and Astros.

When he was told that the Cubs weren’t going to be stepping up with a matching offer, Verlander became an Astro. I’ll be honest, it’s a little disappointing after all we’ve written about the possibility of seeing the former Cy Young winner in Chicago. I had fully convinced myself that it was basically the perfect deal for the Cubs, monster contract and all.

John Lackey is probably the odd man out of the playoff rotation, but Jose Quintana looked to have figured some things out in his last start and Jon Lester returns from the DL on Saturday. Then you’ve got Mike Montgomery pitching well as a primary backup option. All told, there wasn’t as much room or desire to add such a costly arm. So Verlander won’t be getting his druthers in terms of pitching for the Cubs, but he will now be playing for Nolan Ryan, his childhood hero.

And if I can throw this one little thought out there before closing, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, this increases the likelihood of Jake Arrieta returning to the Cubs next season. Still a major longshot, particularly if he wants five years or more, but certainly a possibility that gained a little credence with Verlander out of the picture.

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