Last week, I reached out to Al, suggesting that it might be fun to put on my general manager cap to see how negotiations might go with another club. As a Michigan native, a Cubs fan from the womb, and considering the diverging directions of the two teams, starting with the Cubs and Tigers seemed like a natural fit.
Ashley MacLennan, the Deputy Editor over at our SB Nation Tigers site Bless You Boys, agreed that this sounded like fun. So, she put on her Al Avila costume, I dusted off my Jed Hoyer giddyup, and we got to it.
Below is a lightly edited summary of our negotiations, culminating with a pretty nifty trade.
JH: Hey Al, Jed Hoyer here from the Chicago Cubs.
TE: Just kidding, Al: it's really Theo Epstein. We've reached late July and despite a wobbly season to date, we're in pretty good shape to get back to the postseason to defend our title. That said, we're poking around to see if we can make our roster a little stronger, even after bringing in Jose Quintana. That's where you come in.
First and foremost, let me congratulate you on your son's excellent rebound season. It had to have been tough to watch him struggle over the past couple of seasons, making this year all that much more gratifying. Come to think of it, he'd look awfully nice backing up Willson Contreras on our club. Hold that thought.
As you've probably expected, I'm checking in with you to see about your interest in sending Justin Verlander our way so he can spend the twilight of his career pitching in October. He's certainly had a wonderful career and last year was quite the season for him.
That said, we recognize that he's not an ace anymore, so obviously we're not willing to pay that kind of price. I'm especially saddened to see his secondaries back up this year, but you can still be a good pitcher with a huge fastball and that's what we see. Maybe not $28 million per year good, but good nonetheless. So, let me know what you're looking for to move him.
And while we're at it, let me know the price for your kid.
And before I let you go, let's throw out one more thing: how big of a check would I need from Mr. Ricketts to get Matt Manning in a deal? Would a $20 million bill do the trick?
(I'm just assuming that Fulmer is still off limits as he was in our most recent chat. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong there.)
AA: New phone, who dis?
Look, Theo, I don't know if I appreciate that jab that JV can only pitch in October if he joins the Cubs. Last I checked you weren't even in first place.
Um, look, this is really just an off year for everyone. Miggy isn't hitting like usual, Kinsler either, and I feel pretty confident in saying if you take Verlander he's going to rebound to his 2016 numbers. If that's true taking his whole contract AND throwing in a prospect can't hurt you guys that badly, right? I mean, you have John "I put the Lack in" Lackey playing in your regularly rotation so I think Justin would be a step up.
As for Alex, you better throw something pretty decent my way if I'm going to trade my kid to you. I need to see him at Thanksgiving. How about a prospect or two? People are starting to think I can't make deals, so it better be someone good.
I'm ignoring that Matt Manning question. Did you think when I said no about Fulmer I was starting negotiations on my future pitching rotation? Come on, Theo.
TE: So that's a "no" on Manning then?
Kinsler is down a bit, but he's not so bad. Cabrera...yeesh. He sure looks like a 240-pound 34-year-old to me. At least he's no Pujols.
But back to Verlander. To clarify: Lackey didn't put the "lack" in anything other than John "I lack focus on pitching because I'm too busy complaining that the umpire called my pitch that was six inches off the plate a ball" Lackey. Hmmm, maybe that's not ideal now that I think about it. That said, Verlander looks an awful lot like Lackey did when we signed him as a free agent. Two years ago, Lackey was good for $32 million over two years. Inflate that today and we get something like $38 million or $40 million over two years.
Anyway, if you really thought that Verlander was going to revert to 2016 form next year, this conversation would've ended already, right? The fact that he won't doesn't make him bad in our eyes, Al, but it does mean that we're going to value him at where he is right now. If he was a free agent, I bet he'd get something like $44 million or $48 million over two years. So, in the spirit of keeping this fun, I'll make you a quartet of very different offers to get the ball rolling:
Offer #1: Tigers trade RHP Justin Verlander and $18 million to Cubs for 3B Jeimer Candelario and RHP Jose Rosario
Candelario is ready for an everyday MLB job right now. However, you may have heard that I have another third baseman who occupies that spot on an everyday basis. Rosario has had some wobbly outings this year, but he's ready for a job in the Majors within a month or two. Both of these guys should help next year and beyond as you rebuild on the fly.
Offer #2: Tigers trade RHP Justin Verlander, $12 million, and C Alex Avila to Cubs for 3B Jeimer Candelario and RHP Jose Rosario
That's a pretty nifty valuation for your kid, eh? $6 million for two months of backup catching work is nothing to sneeze at where I'm from!
Offer #3: Tigers trade RHP Justin Verlander and $6 million to Cubs for RHP Pierce Johnson and C P.J. Higgins
Don't tell your fans...but this basically just unloads Verlander's money. You and I both know that [owner] Chris [Ilitch] doesn't want to spend dad's money on a floundering baseball team. He wants to play with that money. Well, here's his chance to do so.
Actually, speaking of a big transfer of payroll dollars...
Offer #4: Tigers trade RHP Justin Verlander, 1B Victor Martinez, RHP Beau Burrows, and RHP Kyle Funkhouser to Cubs for RHP Preston Morrison and RHP Ryan Williams
This is the real test for your new owner: how badly does he want out from under dad's old contracts? That's $74 million we're taking off of your hands! And it'll only cost you a couple of right-handed arms even though you've already got some betters ones.
I've got David Forst on the other line saying "Sonny this" and "Sonny that." I'd rather take a shot on Verlander, but I guess I'll let you and Forst decide who is more serious today.
CI: Hi Theo,
Chris Ilitch here.
Offer #5: Verlander, Martinez, and Funk for Morrison, Williams, and... what are you up to for the next 3 years? I'd throw in Avila Jr. and a gently used Ian Kinsler if you switch teams and come a little further north.
Also don't listen to Forst, what does that guy know?
TE: Chris, I'm glad that you've come into a few billion dollars recently - congratulations! Unfortunately, I can't leave Chicago yet (I have this 10-year rule), but let's talk again in a few years.
Because my Ivy-educated staff and I can be a little dense from time to time, will you please clarify what exactly Offer #5 is in your eyes so I can figure out just how much more I have to ask you to include?
CI: Well, if you're not included in the deal, then I would like to switch to offer #1 please. I'd throw in the younger Avila, but it seems kind of cruel to get rid of him and his dad in the same week.
Er, not that I'm dropping Al.
Can you delete these?
(after you send us Candelario and Rosario that is).
Can I interest you in a lifetime supply of Little Caesar's pizza if you cut an extra $4 mil off that cash price?
TE: I do love me some pizza, but between Giordano's/Lou Malnati's/Gino's/etc., your offer isn't moving the needle much for me.
Sounds like we've got an agreeable framework with JV+$18M for Candelario and Rosario. Just so I can tell Jed, how much would you want me to add to get Avila Jr. thrown in, keeping in mind that my front office is pretty darn full so Avila Sr. doesn't hold much appeal (sorry Dad).
CI: How attached are you to Dillon Maples? I kind of just want to put him on the same roster as Joey Pankake.
TE: As you know, he wasn't our draftee but it's been fun watching him come all the way back from the abyss. We figure he'll be on our roster in September. But if that's the cost of shoring up our backup catcher spot, we can stomach it. Plus, we're sensitive to the ongoing nightmare you've experienced trying to build a bullpen for, well....forever? Sure seems like forever.
So: JV+Avila+$18M for Candelario+Rosario+Maples. We got a deal?
CI: Yup, and I'll send along free Coney Dog Pizzas for the whole front office. Thanks Theo.
AA: Wait, wait... what did I miss?
TE: Chris: pleasure doing business.
Al: I just saw a job posting for an Assistant GM job for the Hiroshima Carp. I'm sure that your resume will make you competitive for the position.
AA: But I just left my phone for a minute... w-what....
TE: Have fun at Thanksgiving!
Well, that sure was fun.
When we kicked off the exercise, my thinking was that Verlander would be a nice addition for the Cubs provided that the prospect cost was low and Detroit kicked in a decent chunk of cash given that Verlander is owed $28 million in each of the next two seasons. More than anything else, this was a test of Chris Ilitch’s desperation to save some money.
In the end, dealing Candelario doesn’t hurt much at all given the Cubs’ roster and shipping out Rosario doesn’t hurt at all given his struggles this year, even if he has a big arm. Shipping out Maples for Avila doesn’t hurt at all given that he was left for dead as of a few months ago and his breakout has included numerous walks anyway.
Avila would be a nice addition for the Cubs. He’s a solid player enjoying an excellent season. But more importantly, Joe Maddon would actually be comfortable playing Avila approximately twice a week, thus saving Willson Contreras’s legs in the process. That matters. Avila’s presence as an impressive bench bat would be a bonus.
Of course, it’s mostly about Verlander. The aging ace has seen big backups in the effectiveness of his offspeed pitches this year, even as their velocities have climbed. Nevertheless, his fastball remains plus-plus and he’s at least an average Major League starter because of it. The Cubs wouldn’t be buying that package, though: they’d be buying the average starter who was a Cy Young runner-up as recently as last year. At this cost, I’d be all for it.
What do you think? Would you make the deal, taking on Verlander’s remaining two years and $38 million while also getting Avila but at the prospect cost described above?