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Verlander deal sets the bar on future contracts for pitchers

by
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

(WKZO) --It’s a great day to be a Tigers’ fan. The best pitcher in baseball Justin Verlander has just re-upped with Detroit, inking a record contract that guarantees him $180 million over seven years with a vesting option for an eighth year that would push the total value of the contract over $200 million.  

"I love this city & the fans - couldn't be more excited to spend my career here!" Verlander tweeted shortly after the announcement. "We're going to bring a World Series to Detroit!!!"  

It was the best worst kept secret of the day, with rumors of a contract extension between the Tigers and Verlander spreading all over social media, with only an official announcement needed to confirm the deal. Verlander himself was guilty of swirling rumors as he posted on Twitter, “Today is going to be a great day. Big news coming!”

The big news was that the Tigers were about to offer Verlander the largest contract ever for a pitcher, topping Felix Hernandez’s seven year contract worth $175 million signed in February. And there’s no doubt about, Verlander is more than worth it, the stats speak for themselves.

A 124-65 record, 3.40 ERA, 1454 strikeouts, five all-star games, two no-hitters, and a Cy Young and MVP award earned in the same season. Verlander has also been a work horse for the Tigers tossing the most innings and striking out the most hitters over the last four years in baseball. All this while never spending a single day on the DL since joining the Tigers’ rotation full time in 2006.   

This was a deal the Tigers needed to make happen. Verlander was scheduled to hit free agency for the first time after the 2014 season and the closer and closer you get to free agency, the more and more enticing the idea of free agency becomes. When asked about his impending free agency, Verlander dedicated his loyalty to Detroit saying he wanted to retire a Tiger but he also made it clear of his desire to become the first $200 million dollar pitcher. Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski were obviously listening.

However, it will be up to Verlander to make the contract hit the $200 million milestone.  The contract is guaranteed for 7 years and only $180million. The eighth year would kick in at $22 million for 2020, if he's in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019.

If history has anything to say about it, the eighth year of the contract might not happen. Verlander will be 36 at the end of 2019 and since 2005, Roger Clemens is the only starting pitcher over the age of 36 to finish in the top five for the Cy Young voting.

This isn’t to say that Verlander still won’t be dominating force on the mound at 36. JV is a different breed of pitcher and if anyone can flip history, it’s him. But the injury bug has to catch up to him eventually and even a short stint on the DL in 2019, could prevent him from cracking the top five in Cy Young voting.

Even if JV stays healthy, it’s hard to say that his skills won’t decrease. Look at guy like Roy Halladay. Halladay was the most dominant pitcher in baseball for years and his numbers are very comparable to Verlander’s at the same stages of their careers. Halladay, 35 (36 on May 14), had his worst season in 2012 and all indications this spring is that the two time Cy Young winner is still in decline. So to think that this couldn’t happen to JV is a little short sighted.

With Verlander’s record deal in the books, the next question is how long until the next record breaking deal is signed by a pitcher? Clayton Kershaw will command just as much if not more than Verlander when he is a free agent after the 2014 season. And it will be hard to think a team wouldn’t offer the younger lefty more than what JV just got paid. Especially the team he is already employed by, the free spending Dodgers.

While top pitchers around baseball should be sending Verlander thank you cards for setting the salary bar so high, some teams are now fearful of what it will cost them to keep their stud pitchers. The cash strapped Tampa Bay Rays will have next to no shot of resigning 2012 Cy Young winner David Price to a contract similar to that of Verlander’s when he becomes a free agent in 2015. It’s not out of the question that if Kershaw isn’t the first $30 million dollar a year pitcher, Price will be.

Fortunately the Tigers no longer have to worry about signing their ace to a long term deal. They can focus now on their goal of winning a World Series for the first time in 29 years. Something JV all but guaranteed via Twitter.  “We're going to bring a World Series to Detroit!!!"    

With the ace locked up long term, one must wonder when the reigning Triple Crown and MVP winner Miguel Cabrera will be resigned to a deal that will keep #24 in a Tiger uniform until the next decade and how much that contract will be worth? Whatever the amount is, I have no doubt in my mind that Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski will find a way to make it happen. 

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