Anatomy of Verlander trade: Inside Tigers' deal as deadline neared
It was only an hour left before the 11:59 p.m. deadline, so here's how the JV trade went down ...
By the time dinner was served at Al Avila’s house on Thursday evening, the Detroit Tigers thought the Justin Verlander trade talks had been put to bed.
The baseball operations department had been holed up inside their third-floor quarters at Comerica Park since 8 that morning and, with nothing imminent on the horizon, decided to relocate to Avila’s house in Bloomfield Hills for the final few hours. A year’s worth of conversations with the Astros — which began last off-season about left-handed reliever Justin Wilson — continued the final afternoon before the 11:59 p.m. waiver trade deadline, carrying no real promise.
Until the final hour.
The Tigers and Astros knew where each other stood on players and money, but they had yet to break new ground in negotiations. A proposal the Astros sent in the wee hours of Thursday morning did not work. Neither did another around noon, just before the Tigers began serious talks in sending leftfielder Justin Upton to the Angels.
As the final hour approached, it seemed destined that those talks would be tabled until the off-season, when the Astros likely would have come calling about Verlander again, perhaps too late, after playing through September and the postseason without one of the most battle-tested pitchers in baseball.
But everything changed with a 10:30 p.m. phone call from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow.
As detailed by multiple people with knowledge of the situation who were given anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, the Tigers and Astros came together at nearly the last possible moment to execute a trade that changed the face of both franchises.
When Luhnow reached Avila, indicating the team would be willing to cede the financial side of the deal — the Tigers are paying $16 million of the remaining $58 million on Verlander’s contract, according to USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale — two baseball operations officials made the 10-minute drive from Avila’s house to Verlander’s apartment in Birmingham.
Their instructions were simple: Wait.
In order for the trade to be finalized, Verlander’s signature was required to waive his no-trade rights.
And so they waited, in a parked car, for nearly an hour and a half, as the deal was agreed upon shortly after 11 p.m. and Verlander weighed his options. The Cubs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, was his preferred choice. But with a farm system that has significantly thinned out over the past season, their late interest was not thought of as a real possibility.
The decision was not easy. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Friday afternoon it seemed “excruciating” after speaking with him. Verlander had questions about Houston and its band-box ballpark and, presented with only a small window to make the biggest decision of his life, sought out those answers in conversations with Astros owner Jim Crane and manager A.J. Hinch, who is said to have alleviated any concerns over the uncertainty.
Verlander never rejected the deal, according to multiple persons with knowledge of the situation.
To that point, with less than a half hour remaining on the clock, both teams already had their plans in place: Medical reports on Verlander and the three highly regarded prospects the Tigers received had been exchanged. If they had not been, the deal would have been impossible to complete in such a short time.
From a negotiation perspective, the Tigers were waiting for the Astros to add a third player to the deal and meet their financial demands. For so long, the Astros wanted the Tigers to pay an amount they were not comfortable with, not for a player of Verlander’s stature.
After Verlander spoke with Crain and Hinch, he called Avila back and accepted a trade that will go down among the biggest in Tigers history. The baseball operations officials left their car shortly thereafter and got their signature, photographing the document and e-mailing it to the commissioner’s office before Verlander verbally agreed to the deal on a three-way call with the commissioner’s office.
The trade seemed unlikely for so long. Even more unlikely that a move of that magnitude would come together so late in the process. But as many said in the days leading up to the waiver trade deadline, it’s impossible to predict how people will behave in the moment. And when the moment came, 90 minutes before there was no turning back, the Tigers and Astros came together in one of the most memorable final-hour trades in baseball history.
Contact Anthony Fenech: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.