Pulling a trade-off is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Pulling off a trade where everyone is the winner? Now that’s even harder.
Not every trade is a battle but if a team is going for a talent like Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, it was inevitably going to take a while.
Alas after nearly months of negotiations, Verlander was finally traded to the Houston Astros on Aug. 31 for three of the Astros’ top-15 prospects. The Tigers desperately wanted to get Verlander’s massive contract off their books so they could start rebuilding mode and the Astros were one of the few teams willing to take it on.
Now many would wonder why trading three prospects for one aging veteran who clearly is past his prime is a win for both teams. That’s understandable.
Prospects is one of those things that constantly sounds good so people immediately get nervous when their team trades them away. I am of the philosophy that if you feel like you’re close enough to a World Series run, which clearly the Astros do, then it’s worth the sacrifice.
There’s also the added bonus of at least the Astros know what they’re getting in Verlander while the Tigers now gamble on three unproven prospects. It’s a good gamble given their performance in the minor leagues and the ridiculous amount of time, money and effort that is put into scouting but a gamble nonetheless.
It also helps that the Astros have depth at all the positions they traded away in their farm system. Trading away pitcher Franklin Perez, who was ranked as the third-best prospect for the Astros, would seem like it could hurt Houston a few years from now. Except for the fact that nearly half of the Astros’ top ten prospects are also right-handed pitchers.
The ninth-ranked prospect was outfielder Daz Cameron and with him gone, the Astros still have two outfielders at the top of their farm system and one more if you count Yordan Alvarez who splits time at first.
Catcher Jake Rogers was the third and final prospect sent to Detroit and he was virtually tied with now-13th ranked Garrett Stubbs for catcher of the future. Not to mention Brian McCann is still contracted with the Astros through the 2019 season so there’s no immediate need there.
So trading away the prospects which were desperately needed by the Tigers as they enter rebuilding mode for a veteran to lead a young Astros team heading into the postseason is, for now, a win by all.
But what about Verlander’s massive contract? Surely, that must be hard on the Astros’ payroll.
Well, yes it takes up a large portion of it but the Astros can afford that especially now. First off, the Tigers agreed to swallow $8 million of Verlander’s remaining two years. That leaves the Astros with paying Verlander $20 million. Still a lot but it’s better.
Now the reason why this trade was so important to the Astros was due to the timing in terms of finances. The Astros have a large group of great young players which is a fancy way of saying this: cheap talent.
Jose Altuve is playing for $4.5 million this year and the Astros have a club option on his contract for the next two years. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman have yet to go through arbitration but even when that happens, their salaries aren’t likely to go up significantly. Especially given the fact that Correa has said he doesn’t want to sign a multi-year deal so early in his career.
While other key pieces like Will Harris and George Springer are being paid in the $3 million range. So until all these young players get to the age where they can officially be free agents, the Astros have room to spend on older veterans.
They have done that with McCann, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick and it’s working out pretty well so far. Plus, Verlander’s option year in 2020 was voided leaving the payroll wide open in the crucial 2020-2022 range in which all these young players will want to be paid.
So trading for Verlander did cost the Astros a lot but with a deep farm system and a payroll that can take it, the Astros didn’t mortgage their future all that much. In return, they have a pitcher who has played in twelve postseason games including two World Series and has an ERA of 3.24 since the All-Star Break.
The Tigers are entering rebuilding mode with a relaxed payroll and some prospects to watch while the Astros finally have a postseason leader as the playoffs quickly approach. It’s really that simple: win-win.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.