MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi wrote, "The Tigers are willing to engage in trade discussions involving Verlander and Avila, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, but the Tigers and Cubs have yet to begin formal negotiations."
OK, that doesn't mean anything is imminent. It doesn't even mean Verlander will be traded at all. As ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted, Verlander's contract is a major discussion point and potential roadblock to any deal.
Still, a Cubs-Tigers deal for Verlander makes a lot of sense. The Cubs need a starting pitcher for 2017. They'll need starting pitching help after 2017, with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey both free agents. So if the Cubs do trade for a pitcher, it makes sense for them to go after one signed beyond 2017. Maybe that's Verlander, maybe it's a younger guy like Sonny Gray. I don't know if they'd be willing to part with top prospect Eloy Jimenez; yes, they traded Gleyber Torres last year, but that was a better Cubs team, and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer believed Aroldis Chapman was the final piece needed. This year's team isn't even a sure bet to make the playoffs.
Even if they want to keep Jimenez, they still have a logjam of position players, particularly if they believe Kyle Schwarber is still in their long-term plans (and no, Schwarber isn't good enough to be the centerpiece of a Verlander or Gray deal). They could make Ian Happ or Javier Baez part of a deal for a pitcher.
Meanwhile, the Tigers don't look like they're going anywhere, sitting at 37-45. Sure, one stretch of winning 10 of 12 gets them back in the wild-card race, but note Joe Sheehan's factoid from his newsletter on Tuesday: In the wild-card era since 1995, only 11 teams with a losing record on July 4 made the playoffs (and none won the World Series). I'll throw in that none of those 11 were as bad as 37-45. The Tigers can hope for better second halves from Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, but even then they're not a playoff team. It's time to commit to a rebuild, and Verlander, even with his 4.96 ERA and the $56 million owed him in 2018 and 2019 (plus a $22 million vesting option for 2020), should bring a nice return in a season in which so many teams will be scrambling for pitching help.
Welcome back, Freddie Freeman. When Freeman fractured his wrist in mid-May, he was hitting an insane .341/.461/.748, and combined with his monster second half of 2016, he had established himself as perhaps the best hitter in the game. He returned to the Atlanta Braves' lineup after just two rehab games and, sure enough, singled to center in his first at-bat. But the big news was he returned as a third baseman. He handled a routine grounder on his first chance:
I've written before that as a long-term solution, this is unlikely to work. The only player in 50 years to transition from first base to third base at the major league level without having played third base before was Enos Cabell. The Braves, however, are 40-42 after losing 16-4 to the Houston Astros, so there's nothing for them to lose with this experiment. FanGraphs estimates their playoff odds at about 3 percent, so why not try it and keep Matt Adams' bat in the lineup?
The hope is that maybe Freeman can play third as well as Cabrera did for the Tigers in 2012 and '13, when he won back-to-back MVP awards. Cabrera, of course, had played third earlier in his career before moving to first for three seasons. His range wasn't great, but he had good hands and made just 25 errors over those two seasons. He was credited with minus-4 defensive runs saved in 2012 and minus-18 in 2013. If Freeman can be a minus-18 defender, his bat makes up for that and Adams will produce more offense than whomever the Braves were going to play at third.
Clayton Kershaw reminds the world that he's still good. So, Mr. Kershaw had that four-homer game against the New York Mets and everyone wondered why he was on pace to allow almost 40 home runs this season. Since that outing two weeks ago: six scoreless innings to beat the Colorado Rockies, seven innings with only an unearned run to beat the Los Angeles Angels, and now seven scoreless innings on Tuesday to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kershaw is 13-2 with a 2.19 ERA. I think he's fine.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh against Arizona, losing it with one out when Chris Owings got jammed and hit a soft grounder toward second baseman Logan Forsythe. Cody Bellinger wandered too far off first base trying to make the play and Owings beat Kershaw to the bag on the throw from Forysthe. If Bellinger stays home, I think they get Owings. Not that Kershaw was going to get the no-hitter. He was already at 100 pitches at that point and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had just made a call to the bullpen to get the relievers stirring. Manager Dave Roberts has been cautious with Kershaw's pitch counts -- his season high is 118 and he has now gone 110 just three times -- so even if he cruises through the seventh instead of giving up two hits, he may have been pulled after seven innings anyway.
The other highlight from this game came in the first inning. During the break heading into the bottom of the first, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Orel Hershiser spoke to the crowd and implored them to vote for Justin Turner, one of the final five candidates for the All-Star Game. Turner then did this:
At last count, Turner was leading Kris Bryant in the voting. He's now hitting .384/.472/.569. It's still a tough call between Turner, Bryant and Anthony Rendon, but it looks like Turner may get it. He did miss 20 games on the DL, but it's hard to ignore a guy hitting .384. You can't go wrong with any of the three.
Logan Morrison is mad and isn't going to take it anymore. OK, you can imagine how New York Yankees fans reacted on Twitter to the Tampa Bay Rays first baseman saying he should be in the Home Run Derby instead of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Morrison has 24 home runs, tied for third in the majors, while Sanchez has 13 home runs. "Gary shouldn't be there," Morrison told reporters. "Gary's a great player, but he shouldn't be in the Home Run Derby. I remember when I had 14 home runs. That was a month and a half ago."
Of course, Sanchez spent a month on the DL and is one of the game's exciting young players, a guy MLB will love promoting in the Derby along with teammate Aaron Judge, Minnesota Twins slugger Miguel Sano, defending champ Giancarlo Stanton and Dodgers star rookie Bellinger (Mike Moustakas, Justin Bour and Charlie Blackmon are the other participants). You almost wonder whether Judge entered only as a package deal with Sanchez.
Look, I can understand Morrison's complaint, since it seems in some years MLB has trouble rounding up eight players, and here's one of the season's home run leaders who apparently wasn't asked to participate. I get that he's not a big name, but what I don't understand is why there has to be four players from each league. I'm fine with Bour being invited to participate in front of his home fans, but if you really wanted Sanchez in it, do we need Blackmon? He has 18 home runs, but it's not like he's regarded as one of the game's premier sluggers. Why not reward one of the players at the top of the home run list?
Anyway, Morrison's revenge: Catch the Yankees in the standings. After beating the Cubs 6-5, the Rays are only 1 1/2 games behind.