The free-agent market doesn’t open for two months. But what if there were a pre-September, contenders-only sale for high-end starting pitching?
Would the Cubs jump at that market? Should they? Could they if they wanted to?
That market exists in the form of 2011 American League Cy Young Award and MVP winner Justin Verlander of the Tigers.
Verlander and the Tigers have turned the final days before postseason eligibility locks in into a last-chance sale on the most intriguing name to clear waivers in August. Because Verlander went unclaimed, the only restrictions on a trade involve his full no-trade rights.
To be clear, the Cubs had a chance to pursue a trade for Verlander in July and passed, despite the Tigers’ eagerness and persistent, overstated rumors tied to the Cubs’ so-called ability to handle much of the big-ticket cost left on his contract.
Verlander is 9-8 with a 3.90 ERA overall, but he is 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA and has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his last eight starts. And the player in the Cubs’ clubhouse who knows him best seems to like the fit.
‘‘He’s got dominating-type stuff, swing-and-miss-type stuff, which for teams that are looking to go to the playoffs is always a premium,’’ said Alex Avila, who caught Verlander with the Tigers before the Cubs traded for him and left-handed reliever Justin Wilson in July.
‘‘Typically, you want to have some guys that can miss the bats. He’s a guy that’s thrown a lot of innings, has a lot of experience — especially in the playoffs — and has done well in the playoffs. He has the mentality that you look for in a shutdown-type pitcher.’’
Verlander is owed less than $5 million for the rest of this season, then $28 million in each of the next two seasons (plus a $22 million option for 2020 that vests if he finishes among the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019). That price tag has put teams such as the Cubs on the sidelines this summer, despite his talent and their need.