Justin Verlander is the odds-on favorite to capture his second AL Cy Young at the age of 36, eight years after he first took home the coveted award. That’s quite a feat given how many people had written him off after a rough start to his 2017 season in Detroit, and it’s something from which the Cubs could be benefiting right now had they opted to trade for Verlander.
According to a report that came out soon after Houston pried the flame-throwing righty away from Detroit, the Cubs were actually Verlander’s first choice and it was his desire to end up in Chicago that held up an eventual waiver trade to the last seconds. But Jed Hoyer said at the time that the Cubs “never got deep into” trade talks with the Tigers, a choice the GM admitted Tuesday still haunts them.
“Listen, there’s no team in baseball that can claim they had knowledge of what was about to happen, because if they had, they would’ve put in a claim,” Hoyer told 670 The Score’s McNeil & Parkins. “Because Lord knows, he’s been worth that contract. He’s been incredible.
“I was watching [his no-hitter] in [our] box the other day, and it was just an exceptional example of precision power pitching. He was throwing as hard as he could, but then he was landing his curveball whenever he wanted. It was amazing. So yeah, of course there’s regret.”
Even though Cubs Insider was very much in favor of trading for Verlander at the time, and while hindsight makes it a no-brainer, you can’t really dunk on the Cubs for not making the move. They were reasonably confident in their rotation and saw Verlander as an aging veteran whose production might continue to slide as his salary remained high.
As it turns out, his production improved so much that the Astros saw fit to extend him with a deal that pays an average of $33 million over two seasons beyond this one. It was that resurgence that helped push the Cubs to trade for Cole Hamels last year, a move that paid off as the lefty was their best pitcher down the stretch. That success then led them to pick up Hamels’ $20 million for this season, which looked like a bargain prior to his oblique injury.
“I think part of the impetus last year with Cole Hamels was a little bit of what we saw in Verlander, learning from that lesson — that this was a guy, his stuff was still good in Texas but he was struggling a bit,” Hoyer shared. “We had that thought of, ‘OK, if we get him here, get him into a better ballpark to pitch, a place where we’re still in a pennant race and a ballpark he’s comfortable in, maybe we can get that kind of resurgence.
“I think some of the veterans, the guys like Verlander and the guys like Hamels, the guys that have pitched in the World Series, stuff like that, I think this atmosphere can energize them. I do think with Hamels, we definitely learned a little bit of a lesson and I think we’ve benefited from that.”
Rather than view that as a lesson in revisionist history, since such ruminations don’t really help anything, this is probably best presented as a cautionary tale. Or maybe just as another in the legion of anecdotes to illustrate that almost nothing in baseball is either linear or predictable. Except that I’ve already pulled the “toldya so” card on this one and I was very disappointed when the Cubs failed to get Verlander.
This topic wasn’t the only one on which Hoyer shared some very forthright responses, either, not that he really has much of a chance to hide from them any longer. He lamented how the Cubs haven’t become that “offensive juggernaut that we expected in 2015” and agreed that time is running out for the core of the team to reach its potential.
Take that all for what it’s worth, even if you think it’s too little honesty too late on items you’ve been well aware of for months or even years. As much as I feel the same way, I can appreciate the candor with which was discussed here.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to put the finishing touches on my time machine so I can go back to August of 2017 — when we still had waiver trades(!) — and bang the Verlander drum a little louder.