Detroit Tigers: Where would Justin Verlander fit in next season?

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

If the Detroit Tigers were to sign Justin Verlander this offseason, where would he fit in? This has a storybook ending feel to it, and maybe even a poetic one if there is a reunion between the two sides down the road.

Verlander, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end, recently expressed his desire to potentially return to the organization according to the Detroit Free Press.  But there is plenty of uncertainty that will need to be addressed before Verlander signs his next deal.

Here’s the thing, nobody knows if Verlander can return to Major League Baseball and if he can, will he be effective after undergoing Tommy John surgery, let alone be the dominant force he once was?

If Verlander can return, who is to say it won’t be as a reliever or closer?

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At 39-years old, with his high mileage, remodeled right arm, he may need to take a path similar to John Smoltz and become a back of the bullpen, high leverage closer type piece moving forward.

Smoltz led the league with 55 saves in 2002 for the Braves and then followed that up with 45 and 44 over the next two seasons respectfully before returning to the rotation in 2005, where he’d remain to finish his career with stops in Boston and St. Louis before retiring at 42-years old in 2009.

Verlander may face a similar path as he begins his trek back into the big leagues.

If the Detroit Tigers are an option for his services, Justin Verlander has a few things that work in his favor.

First off, the obvious.

The city of Detroit will go bananas if Chris Ilitch opens his checkbook. Unfortunately, the frugal team owner does not have the same willingness to spend as his dad once did. So, spending money in free agency will be a small win for the Detroit Tigers, and if some of that money is spent on a former Tigers legend it only amplifies the excitement of spending that much more.

Sure, odds are Verlander won’t be the 2011 Cy Young, MVP, Triple Crown winner he once was, but knowing his number 35 will be painted on the bricks inside Comerica Park after he hangs up the cleats, bringing him back to Detroit for a final hurrah has the makings of a storybook ending.  Verlander won’t command the same $30-35 million deal he was once a shoo-in to make, it will be more of a ‘prove you are healthy’ one-year affordable deal.

Also, the Tigers are managed by A.J. Hinch, formally of the Houston Astros.  Hinch, amid the sign-stealing scandal, had been Houston’s manager in 2017 when Verlander and the Astros won the World Series.

Where would Justin Verlander fit in with the Detroit Tigers?

If the veteran right-hander proves he can pitch in the starting rotation, he will slate in nicely behind Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, locking down the middle of the group.  If Verlander returns to Detroit, he won’t be asked to be the ace this time around, but more of a mentor to the youthful Tigers arms.

If the then 39-year old provides the organization with the same magic Kenny Rogers once did at 41-years old back in 2006, the organization, along with its loyal fanbase, will be beyond thrilled.

Knowing how often Verlander has mentioned how badly he wanted to win a title for the late Mike Ilitch mixed with his recent comments about potentially returning to the Tigers. I expect his bulldog-like mentality to take over and be at the forefront of Verlander’s mind if he and the organization are destined for a reunion; I do expect him to return to the rotation.

But if he is unable to, as previously mentioned, he’d make for an excellent late innings guy or even provide the organization with a reliable ‘opener’ who can pitch multiple innings to start a ball game but maybe not be able to pitch as deep into the game as he once did.

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These answers will all be answered soon, and I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.