J.D. Martinez is gone, and while reliever Justin Wilson and second baseman Ian Kinsler are in play, Justin Verlander looms as the biggest name out there for any team. The ace righthander is owed $28 million a year through 2019, with a potential $22 million vesting option in '20 if he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting the year before. Leaving aside that a one-year, $22 million capper would be a great outcome for any team that would employ Verlander that season, the money has held back his trade value, with savvy-shopping teams like the Astros particularly vexed by having to foot that big a bill.
The latest rumors out of Detroit have the Tigers willing to cover some of Verlander’s remaining salary in the right deal; depending on how much cash is on the table, that could change things dramatically. While Verlander’s season-long numbers have stunk (thanks in large part to problems throwing first-pitch strikes), he has started to show glimpses of the Cy Young-caliber pitcher he used to be. He has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his past 10 starts, his latest a sparkling seven-inning, eight strikeout performance against the Royals. With so many contenders jonesing for quality starting pitching and the hope that Verlander will return to the form that had him finish a controversial second in last year's Cy Young voting, one more great start could have him headed out of town.