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Justin Verlander, the Dodgers and revisionist history

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There’s a reason why hindsight is always 20/20

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

With the trade deadline three weeks from today, we are living in a world of non-stop rumors. Will the Dodgers get Manny Machado? What about the bullpen? And is Jacob deGrom a real possibility?

But with the deadline comes reminiscing of years past, and a lot of folks are thinking about last year’s deadline. You remember, no? The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish, Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani on deadline day, and all were key contributors to the Dodgers’ run to the postseason and up through the World Series. Except for Darvish, who infamously got rocked in the Series.

With that came the natural question a hindsight revisionist would ask: Why didn’t the Dodgers trade for Justin Verlander instead? You know, the guy who was rejuvenated after being traded to Houston and helped lead the Astros to the World Series title ... because everyone saw that coming. At least, everyone in my Twitter mentions.

Sure, he didn’t actually win a game in the Fall Classic (actually left both his starts behind), but he was really good against the Dodgers. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is folks saying they knew Verlander was the right choice ... because of what he did after getting to Houston. You can see how this is problem.

When the Dodgers acquired Darvish, he was unquestionably the best starting pitcher available. It wasn’t an issue of “Darivsh or Verlander?” it was more, “Darvish or bust.”

Through July 31, Darvish had a 4.01 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 18.3 K-BB% and a .224 batting average against. His ERA and FIP were inflated by a bit by a disastrous outing in Miami. In 3 23 innings, he allowed 10 runs, nine hits and two home runs. You can’t exclude it, but it explains the higher than expected ERA and FIP. In the same time period, Verlander had a 4.29 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 11.6 K-BB% and a .249 BAA. His numbers weren’t inflated close to the deadline, he just wasn’t pitching particularly well. Certainly not well enough to justify adding that much money to the payroll.

Speaking of money, the contract statuses of the two pitchers also played into the Dodgers’ thinking. Darvish was in the final year of his six-year contract and was owed roughly $3.7 million for the remainder of the season. Verlander — four years Darvish’s senior — was signed through 2019 at $28 million per season, plus whatever the Astros had to pay of Verlander’s salary after they acquired him. Detroit did send $16 million to Houston in the deal, so the total outlay of money for Houston was roughly $44.75 million for two years and a month of pitching. With the Dodgers’ desire to get under the luxury tax in the winter, taking on that kind of money wouldn’t have made it an easy task to accomplish.

But that’s beside the point. Verlander was acquired by Houston at the waiver trade deadline (Aug. 31). Darvish had been a Dodger for a month by that time and there really wasn’t room in the rotation or in the payroll. And the Astros didn’t go after him until guys like Dallas Keuchel and Josh Reddick spoke up in the media. This was after their failed attempt to land the OriolesZach Britton at the non-waiver deadline. They also had their sights set on Sonny Gray or Jose Quintana, but Quintana had already been dealt to the Cubs a few weeks before the deadline and the Astros didn’t want to meet the Athletics’ asking price for Gray (which the Yankees did). So before you Captain Hindsights want to say Houston was smart for getting Verlander, well, consider he wasn’t even their second- or third choice in terms of pitching acquisitions.

Everyone looks at what Verlander did after being traded to Houston and say, “The Dodgers should have traded for him instead of Darvish.” This is exactly why hindsight is undefeated. If there were any inkling that Verlander would regain his dominant, Cy Young-form from early in his career and wouldn’t suffer any major injuries, then yes, the Dodgers should have traded for him. And while Darvish was far from the perfect pitcher, the gamble on him made a lot more sense than trading for a 34-year-old who had an injury history, mediocre numbers and real sign of him turning things around at the end of July.

Could you imagine how insufferable Dodgers Twitter would be if they did acquire Verlander and he continued to pitch to a 4-plus FIP? There would be an angry mob storming Dodger Stadium with pitchforks.

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Folks will continue to play the hindsight game because it’s easy to do. They’re always right. But it just isn’t that simple. There is no amount of analysis that could have been done before July 31 that would have pointed to Verlander being the best pitcher to acquire.

There’s no telling if the Dodgers would have won the World Series last year if they had traded for Verlander. There are far too many variables to consider. They might not have even made it (and the same could be said about the Astros). All I know is, I’m tired of reading/hearing, “The Dodgers should have traded for Verlander.” It didn’t happen for very obvious reasons. It’s time to move on.