Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It was reported just a couple days ago that the Chicago Cubs inquired about Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who is having a career year. On Monday, the defending champions checked in with Detroit on the availability of another potential trade chip, Avila’s long-time battery mate.

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is not having a good season, regardless of the standards he has set for himself. Through 17 starts this season, he has an ERA just a shade under 5.00 and a WHIP of 1.52, both career-worsts. It’s worth noting that his 4.96 season ERA is severely inflated due to an 11.30 ERA in three outings against the Cleveland Indians, who tagged him for seven earned runs on Sunday.

Still, it’s apparent that Verlander simply has not been as sharp or intimidating as he was a season ago when he finished runner-up in the American League Cy Young voting.

On top of the struggles, the 34-year-old is owed a minimum $56M over the next two seasons (there’s also a vesting option for 2020 worth $22M), and has a full no-trade clause in his contract. It’s a major contrast to the money Avila is making in 2017 ($2M).

So one has to safely wonder, “why would the Cubs or any contending team want to take on a struggling veteran and his large contract?”

Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Three of Chicago’s five rotation starters from Opening Day — Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Brett Anderson — are all unrestricted free agents after this season. All three are also posting an ERA of at least 4.30 or higher; Anderson is currently on the 60-day disabled list and has only made six starts this season.

Last year’s National League ERA leader Kyle Hendricks, who is also on the DL, has an ERA just north of 4.00 in 11 starts. Hendricks, however, is under team control through 2020. Chicago has been relying on organizational depth starter Eddie Butler (4.18 ERA in 10 starts) and “utility pitcher” Mike Montgomery (2.80 ERA in 23 games; 5 starts) for outings as of late.

Outside of lefty ace Jon Lester, the rotation for the defending champs remains very bleak and raises a lot of questions, both short- and long-term. Chicago is definitely a team flush with payroll flexibility and a deep farm system, even knowing they wouldn’t have to surrender either of much to net a struggling veteran like Verlander.

The inquiry on Alex Avila is not all that surprising from a necessity standpoint, but came at a peculiar time. Chicago recently cut ties with veteran backup Miguel Montero, who voiced his displeasure with the Cubs’ pitching staff, particularly Arrieta, to the media. Montero has since then been picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Join the conversation, click to jump to comments now!