Cubs Trade Rumors: Verlander Talks Continue, Prospect Cost a Sticking Point

“We have a lot of hooks in the water right now,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said prior to Tuesday’s game with the Sox at Wrigley.

Tending those hooks kept Hoyer and Theo Epstein at the team offices rather than on the other side of town for the game at Guaranteed Rate Wednesday night. There have been a lot of names thrown out and Ken Rosenthal had reported a couple days ago that the Cubs were exploring as many as 20 different different scenarios. That, my friends, is a lot of hooks. Enough to make you think they’re gonna need a bigger boat.

No, I’m not saying they’re going after Shark, though they could do worse.

The biggest fish on the line — at least as far as what we’ve heard — is Tigers star Justin Verlander, a man whose age, performance, and contract have spurred plenty of debate. I’ve gone on record here and otherwise as saying that I am very much okay with acquiring Verlander and his massive salary, though the prospects the Cubs give up in return need to make sense.

That’s where the two teams appear to be hitting a snag, as 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine tweeted Thursday afternoon.

“Told Cubs and Tigers having difficulty matching up talent back for Verlander,” Levine wrote. “No traction on this right now. Not totally dead.”

Not a surprise, as the sliding scale between how much of Verlander’s contract the Cubs would take on is directly proportional to the prospect(s) they’d be willing to part with. Then you’ve got the idea of possibly snagging Alex Avila as well, though the Cubs have been said to be looking at less expensive options, namely A.J. Ellis. Detroit was reportedly attempting to bundle players together to maximize return (which we had speculated a while back), but they might be overvaluing Avila in doing so.

Though he’s a rental, the Tigers could well be trying to parlay the veteran catcher’s career-best offensive campaign into a bigger return than he’d otherwise garner. But with Willson Contreras having a breakout of his own, the Cubs aren’t looking for a mainstay behind the plate. Although…hmm. Having an offensive threat who can also handle the staff would allow Joe Maddon to keep Contreras in the lineup more often by flexing him to the outfield once in a while to save him from the rigors of catching.

On the other hand, a close look at Avila’s performance reveals that he’s trending in the wrong direction. While his season-long line of .276/.398/.481 with a .377 wOBA and 137 wRC+ is very enviable, particularly for a backup, the last month tells a different story. Since June 29 (68 PA’s), Avila is hitting .145/.294/.145 with a .218 wOBA and a wRC+ of only 28. Unlike the number of plate appearances, that’s not even close to being nice. You know Epstein and Hoyer are using that for leverage in these talks.

But let’s get back to Verlander, who is obviously being discussed on multiple fronts. Along with Sonny Gray, he’s really the only front-line starter who is known to be absolutely available. We can probably add Yu Darvish to that list too, despite back-and-forth reports on the Rangers’ willingness to deal him.

We knew that both the Nationals and Dodgers would at least be exploring the pitching market, but Clayton Kershaw (lower back strain) and Stephen Strasburg (nerve impingement in elbow) hitting the DL has upped the urgency for both teams. At this point, it feels inevitable that we’re going to see those teams involved with the top names.

It’s interesting to see Verlander in there, given the Dodgers’ payroll situation and their reported desire to avoid any more huge contracts in light of the increasing penalties built into the new CBA. Sure enough, he seems like more of a fallback.

The Nats aren’t in the same situation financially, but they’re paying quite a bit of money to Strasburg and Max Scherzer, among others, and probably aren’t in position to acquire much of Verlander’s salary. Unless they’re completely certain — and they might be — that they won’t be able to re-sign Bryce Harper. They’ve had lots of dialogue with the A’s on Gray and could probably land him if they’re willing to part with prized CF prospect Victor Robles.

So there we are with the Cubs and Verlander, a match that continues to strike me as making all kinds of sense for both teams. The Cubs can acquire the salary without significantly impacting financial flexibility over the next two seasons, and the Tigers accomplish the goal of shedding salary while maybe picking up a prospect or two. Verlander is 34 and his stats are down a bit from what we’ve seen from him, but he’s still hitting the high 90’s and could get an emotional boost from a change of scenery.

I won’t be surprised whether or not the Cubs land the former Cy Young winner, though I’ve reached the point where I’ll be disappointed if they don’t. Stay tuned.

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