A Detroit Encore For Verlander? 'He'd Like To Finish His Career As A Tiger'

Hey, he'll be a free agent in 2022.

Will Burchfield
June 28, 2019 - 8:55 pm

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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It may feel distant now, but there was a time not so long ago when the Tigers and Red Wings were the toast of the town. It spawned a sense of camaraderie between the players on both teams, birthed friendships like the one between Justin Verlander and Chris Chelios. 

Several years later, that friendship endures. 

"I still keep in touch with Verlander," Chelios told 97.1 The Ticket's podcast The Time That. "I couldn’t be any happier for him, for what he’s done and what he continues to do. It’s special, it really is." 

If anything could make it more special, it'd be a reunion with the Tigers down the road. Sounds like Verlander's already planning on it. 

"Who knows how much longer he’s going to go, but jeez, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. But his heart for sure is with Detroit. There’s no question. He’s always talked about at the end, when he does decide that it’s time, he’d like to finish his career as a Tiger. That’s pretty cool. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I know his heart’s in Detroit," said Chelios. 

Verlander, 36, said last year he'd like to pitch until the age of 45. He's as good as he's ever been, maybe even better. He signed an extension with the Astros this spring that runs through 2021. And then he'll hit free agency. 

Tigers general manager Al Avila said this offseason the Tigers will be in position to start spending again after the 2020 season. And if the rebuild progresses as hoped -- no sure thing, mind you -- the team should be situated to at least make a pitch to Verlander in the 2021-22 offseason. 

If he senses he can deliver a championship to a city and an organization he clearly still has strong feelings for, who's to say he won't come back? He'll be 39 in the 2022 season. 

Maybe that's too soon. Maybe Verlander will wait for the Tigers to firmly reestablish themselves as contenders. He'll likely play the rest of his career on short-term deals, so he figures to have at least a few more chances to sign where his heart desires. 

There's no doubt Verlander would welcome the chance to wear the Old English 'D' again. A reunion would seem to hinge on two uncertainties: that Verlander holds up as he continues to age, and that the Tigers regrow into a winning team. A lot can happen in the next few years. 

At the very least, a return to Detroit seems to be in the back of Verlander's mind. 

Other highlights from Chelios' interview. 

On whether it was easy for Red Wings fans to embrace him after several years with the Blackhawks: "No, it wasn’t. Trust me. Going out to restaurants and bars in the city of Detroit, I can’t tell you how many people said, 'We always hated you.' And I’m like, 'Yeah, well, I hated you, too.' But it worked out. The Cup (in 2002) was the icing on the cake. That really made peace with everybody. And that team, that group of players that the Ilitches and Kenny Holland put together, that was pretty special. All those guys -- Lidstrom, Robitaille, Hasek, Hully, myself, Shanny -- it was a dream team and I was very fortunate to be a part of that." 

On his relationship with Mike Babcock: "Me and Babs never saw eye to eye, but I learned a lot from him, too. And it took that long for a coach to challenge me in that sense. But at (the age of) 46, 47, 48 it’s going to happen. ... He rubs guys the wrong way, there’s no question. Accountability and structure, that’s Babs’ thing. He’s in control."

On the one guy he hated playing against: "I’ll admit it now that I’m not playing. Dale Hunter, for sure. Of all the players over the years, he got the best of me. He blew my knee out twice. You get into a fight with him and you think you won, you come out bleeding. But what a competitor, what a great player. Big goals, what a career he had. But he scared the hell out of me."

On the one guy he dominated: "I’m going to say Wayne Gretzky, because I never played him in the playoffs. I owned him. My plus-minus -- someone threw it at me -- I was like, plus-18 over Gretz. So I got that on him." 

On sitting courtside with Kid Rock during the Malice at the Palace: "If you could somehow check the video, Bobby started walking across the court and I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and said, 'Nope. We're going to watch right from here.' You can see it on the video. He wanted to get into it. Trust me, check the video. He literally got out of his seat and started walking. He was almost in the key under the basket, it’s funny. And then he thanked me after." 

On Ken Holland getting a bad rap toward the end of his tenure as GM: "There’s no way he should get a bad rap. He’s won four Cups. How many teams won four Cups in the last 30 years? There’s maybe five. Kenny, what a job he did. What a great person he is. Great match with the Ilitch family, how he worked so well with them. Class act. Whoever doesn’t gve him kudos, not fair. They’re wrong. He’s one of the best people I've ever met and a great GM and probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around." 

What he’s most proud of in his 26-year NHL career: "I think just the way my teammates, the fans, how I've been received. The respect, that part. The way the media has treated me, all that. It gives me that sense of relief that whatever I accomplished during my career, now it’s all good. I’m at peace and everything's great. I made it with Detroit and I couldn’t have scripted it any better after leaving Chicago and the way things worked out for me. ...  That’s what I’m most proud of, the way people received me and how I’ve been treated."