The Rundown: Cubs Were Never Really Going to Get Verlander, Lackey Keeps Winning

Though we heard yesterday that Justin Verlander wanted to play for the Cubs, so much so that he refused to okay the eventual trade until he knew the Cubs were out, Jed Hoyer told reporters that Houston was the clear frontrunner the whole time. The Astros were more aggressive with their offer from the start and the Cubs weren’t willing to match it.

“Detroit kinda liked that offer all along,” Hoyer said prior to Friday’s game. “I think they were pretty focused on Houston all along. Because of that, because they had a deal they liked that they sat on for a bunch of weeks, we never got deep into it. In the end, I think it worked out for Detroit and for Houston. But I think that was gonna be the result for almost the entire month.”

This could be just Hoyer being, um, coyer than he needs to be, but I’m inclined to believe that he’s being honest here. Given how long they’ve been attached by these threads of rumors, we can deduce that the Cubs did indeed have interest. And we can also conclude that they were never willing to part with the prospects Detroit felt they needed to get in return for Verlander.

That prospect cost may have even gone up in the time since the teams first engaged in talks, given Verlander’s improved performance. After posting a 4.96 ERA (4.35 FIP) with 1.96 K/BB through July 2 (right around the time rumors of the Cubs’ interested began to circulate), Verlander has put up a 2.31 ERA (3.64 FIP) with 4.20 K/BB since. If he can maintain anything close to that latter line for the remainder of his contract, it’s a good deal.

However, it’s still a very costly deal, and one the Cubs were ultimately unwilling to make. Whether that’s because of their lack of desire to take on Verlander’s money or their faith in the prospects remaining after they parted with so many at the top to land other pitchers is unknown. Forced to guess, I’d say it’s both. Wait, that’s actually an easier answer. So, yeah, definitely both.

When writing about the lingering interest in Verlander prior to the trade, I concluded that the Cubs wouldn’t seriously pursue him because they’re confident in the rotation they have in place. Assuming good health the rest of the way, you’re looking at six capable starters. Verlander didn’t represent enough of an upgrade over one of the top four spots that it’s worth expending the prospect and payroll capital required to land him.

But that’s just looking this year, which is too myopic a view. The Cubs could absorb Verlander’s contract and still have room to maneuver in free agency over the next two seasons, so he might have made sense from that perspective. Except we then go back to the matter of that trove of pitching prospects and the possibility of seeing them up in a couple years. So now you’re left paying a huge salary to a guy who you really only need for one season.

This leaves the Cubs in need of another starter for 2018, and probably not a top-tier type. They won’t want to tie themselves to a big contract that would push into the time in which they’ll need to extend the young bats, but what kind of pitcher are you going to get on a shorter deal? We’ll find out at some point.

Lackey can’t lose

Every time I count this guy out, he just keeps coming back and pitching well. The weather was very much in his favor Friday, with a stiff breeze knocking down the flies he concedes on a regular basis. Knowing what he had behind him, Lackey just went out and threw strikes. He walked none and gave up only three singles, all of which came in the first two innings.

After Rio Ruiz and Dansby Swanson each collected two-out knocks in the 2nd, Lackey got opposing pitcher Mike Foltynewicz to ground out for what would be the first of 16 consecutive Braves he’d retire from that point on. The Cubs are now 9-1 in Lackey’s last 10 starts and he’s actually come out with a win in six of those. I know pitcher wins are a highly overrated stat, but there’s at least a little we can take from that.

The main takeaway is that the Cubs are playing good baseball and they’re doing it when John Lackey is on the mound. As strange as it seems, the guy is actually getting people to wonder whether he should be part of the playoff rotation. While I can’t imagine an injury-free scenario in which that happens, the big Texan is certainly doing his part to make sure the conversations are had.

More news and notes

  • Kyle Schwarber made a diving, tumbling catch to rob Nick Markakis in the 2nd inning, a play that really helped Lackey out. Remember, the pitcher gave up two subsequent hits that inning.
  • Clayton Kershaw returned from the DL Friday night to pitch six scoreless innings. He was on a 70-pitch limit, but struck out seven and allowed only two infield hits on the night. Gulp.
  • Mark Melacon is probably going to undergo forearm surgery to address an issue that’s been nagging him for a while. It’s not too dire, as he hasn’t been shut down yet, but he’ll have six to eight weeks of recovery once it’s done.
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