By Mark Wilson
April 8, 2015

Opening Day at Comerica Park was cool. David Price nearly popped a complete game shutout on the Minnesota Twins, fans fought in the parking lots and an Oscar winner threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

161 games to go.

So far, so good.

J.K. Simmons, who won the Academy Award for “Whiplash,” once played a Detroit Tigers’ manager in a movie. It was Sam Raimi’s “For Love of the Game.”

In the film, Kevin Costner’s character, Billy Chapel, is an aging veteran pitcher who recalls his life while tossing a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium.

Not saying that Justin Verlander is an aging pitcher but… he has tossed TWO no-hitters. NOW might be a good time to take a look at his baseball life.

You can’t have it both ways.

With J.V. (not J.K.) starting this season the disabled list for the first time in his career, there are two ways to look at the second campaign for manager Brad Ausmus.

Once again, not J.K.

Some might think Simmons is better equipped at actually BEING the Tigers’ skipper.

But, I digress.

On a radio show Sunday I was asked to make a yearly prediction for the four-time reigning American League Central Division Champions.

I said it’s difficult to do that since you have to look at this squad WITH Verlander and WITHOUT Verlander.

Again, can’t have it both ways.

You can’t simply diss a guy entering the extension he signed a couple of years ago.

J.V. is embarking on a deal that pays him an astronomical $28 million per season for the next FOUR seasons. He even has a vesting option of $22 million in 2020.

J.K. (not J.V.) would love to have that contract.

Until the end of spring training in Lakeland, Verlander had never sniffed the disabled list.

In fact, the TENTH anniversary of his first MLB game will be on the 4th of July.

He made two starts in ’05 and was so awful it prompted then-manager Alan Trammell to say, “Oh yeah, he’s going back down; not ready yet.”

Verlander went back to the minors.

In 2006, with Jim Leyland now the skipper (not J.K.), J.V. ruled spring training and made the club going north and never saw the minors again.

Nine years of hard major league pitching ensued.

2,000 plus innings, 298 starts without a relief appearance, 152 victories and a plethora of awards made Verlander one of the most dominating pitchers in Tigers’ history.

For years, he was the best in baseball.

It wasn’t even arguable.

This March, it all caught up with him.

Not that he hasn’t had some health issues in recent times but now he was in a position where he could not come north with the ball club. He needed to remain in Florida.

J.V. was on the D.L.

Not J.K.

Ausmus has been quoted as saying that Verlander threw off the mound over the weekend and felt good until the final few pitches. He was expected to face hitters on Tuesday if he felt good enough.


What does all that mean?

Me’s thinks it means… they don’t know.

This is tricky, dicey and any other words you want to use referring to a $28 million per year property that might very well be damaged goods.

Tigers’ brass has to be REAL careful how they handle the J.V. situation.

Again… not J.K.

Judging by that opening pitch Simmons tossed on Monday, HE may be more ready to go than Verlander.

Whatcha doing on Sunday, J.K.?

Sunday was the target date for the Tigers’ number two hurler behind Price to make his 2015 debut. It would be the wrap up to the first road series of the season; a three gamer in Cleveland.

The forecast is for cool temps and rain; another consideration to J.V.’s migration north.

Its one thing for Justin to fire the pill in sunny hot Central Florida… it’s another for him to pitch in dingy, gray Cleveland.

No emails, Cleveland. That is NOT a social commentary on your fine Ohio city.

Fact of life: Weather blows in the Midwest April and even into May.

Triceps strains don’t feel a lot better when cold and rain preside.

It is now the most expensive triceps in baseball.

Bottom line: Verlander can’t go on Sunday.

The Tigers will call up Kyle Lobstein from Triple-A Toledo. Lobstein had a good spring and could have made just about any other MLB squad.

Even with the move of Max Scherzer in free agency to Washington and the trade of Rick Porcello to Boston, the Tigers’ starting unit was still strong with Price, Verlander, Anibel Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.

Lobstein was simply odd man out.

In six starts last season, the “Rock Lobster” went 1-and-2 with an ERA of 4.35. He’s spent most of the last two years with the Mud Hens.

However, he makes lunch money compared to J.V.

Lunch money rarely replaces a $28 million man.

Uh oh, I wanna start calling Lobstein “Lunch Money.”

Lunch Money Lobstein?

It has a ring to it.

So, I dare ya. I dare ya to try and figure out a season-long prediction on the 2015 Detroit Tigers without fully knowing what’s going to happen to Verlander.

WITH a HEALTHY number 35?

Basically, the sky is the limit. A return to anything near his MVP form of 2011 and there is no doubt the Tigers can win a fifth AL Central title in a row.

A year long issue with triceps or other injury to J.V. and they could be staring down the barrel of third place in the division.

Believe me; ALL eyes are on Verlander right now.

Robin Ventura, Ned Yost, Terry Francona and Paul Molitor are all spying on Motown for the latest info. The four other division managers change their thinking during series with Detroit.

J.V. is still to be feared when it’s his turn.

It’s not a mystery that the franchise suffered when Jack Morris left town in 1991. You could say it set the program back more than a decade.

Verlander is the best pitcher the organization has groomed since Morris bolted to Minnesota.

The fear is twofold for the Tigers.

One has to do with actual pitching and the other has to do with that MONEY.


$112 million guaranteed is owed J.V. the next four years. Add to that Miguel Cabrera’s insane extension that doesn’t even kick in until NEXT year and you’re on the hook for some $352 million give to just TWO guys.

Miggy has already had his own health issues that included surgery this off season.

You could add Victor Martinez to the mix.

He gets $54 million over the next three seasons. V-Mart too went through some surgery.

$400 million. Three players.


And now all three have health concerns.


Look, it was bound to happen. J.V. turned 32 in February; not old by any means but at the tail end of what we commonly refer to as a “pitcher’s prime.”

Baseball teams over the years have always been leery, if not superstitious, of handing out contracts past a pitcher’s 32nd birthday.

Verlander is only NOW starting that deal.

Hell, he hasn’t even had the first paycheck direct deposited yet.

You can’t lose Scherzer, Porcello and Doug Fister (two seasons ago) plus throw a DL’d Verlander into the bowl and think you can be as good as before. There is NO logic to that at all.

We saw how good Yoenis Cespedes can be on Opening Day. He had two extra base hits and made a spectacular catch in left field. It was as fine a grab, robbing a home run, as you will ever see.

J.D. Martinez hit a homer which was documented as the first homer in MLB for 2015 since there were none in the previous night’s Cubs-Cardinals opener.

Alex Avila, Ian Kinsler, Miggy, Nick Castellanos, Rajai Davis, Jose Iglesias— all contributed in the win over the Twins and we know that offensive group can make it to a post-season.


It will be pass or fail on how the pitching holds up in ’15.

Price and Verlander were the standard bearers.

Right now, it’s only Price until further notice.

For those that believe Kate Upton had something to do with J.V.’s recent struggles, it’s tough to argue there is some affect.

Women behind the men have always shown a propensity to be a factor.

Ask LeBron James, Nick Saban, Tiger Woods, Grant Hill, etc.

I won’t, however, blame the lovely Ms. Upton for Verlander’s triceps injury. At least… not yet.

The landscape is littered with women that affected change in their men.

Hello Yoko!

But you can’t fault Justin for wanting a smoking hot girlfriend. Hell, Upton might not even be in it for the money!

She has plenty of dough on her own.

This could all be for naught.

Verlander may be just fine, head north and continue being one of the best pitchers in the game.

If that’s the case then you can start booking plans for October baseball once again.

If not?

Well, it’s very possible this ride is over. And, it would be over without the Tigers winning Mike Ilitch’s coveted World Series trophy.

That’s ok. J.K. Simmons will be more than happy to show off his Oscar.