Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 3, 2010

Tigers Extend Verlander

Word has begun to leak out from credible sources that on Thursday the Tigers will announce a contract extension for Justin Verlander that will pay him $80m over the next five years.

On balance, this is an outstanding maneuver for the Tigers and for Dave Dombrowski.  Certainly, there are things about it that didn’t go how I may have hoped, but frankly the World of sports, negotiation, and contracts doesn’t always, usually, or even frequently go the way that fans of particular teams may hope, because it takes two to tango and players understandably have to look out for their own interests.

On a personal level, I may have preferred that they not started negotiating until mid-Summer of this season.   Why?   Well, there are a few reasons.   First, Verlander had an incredible workload last season.   He threw 3,921 pitches, which was 303 more than the next starter on the list in the entire league (Ironically, that starter was Felix Hernandez, the man whose Verlander’s contract was built around).  It’s also the highest total thrown by an individual pitcher since Livan Hernandez in 2005.   Secondly, this dramatically increased workload came immediately in the wake of a 2008 season where a lot of things went wrong for him.    On a personal note, it would have felt more like a slam dunk had negotiations opened up sometime in mid-July once it was clear that the gigantic step forward taken in 2009 — And make no mistake, it was a gigantic step — Was no fluke and that his arm can withstand the rigors of the increased workload.

In addition, as a personal matter I’m generally disinclined to long-term deals for pitchers that exceed four years.   All pitchers are significant injury risks relative to position players and very rarely do long term deals for even elite pitchers work out for the duration.   A fifth year is legitimate cause for frayed nerves and hand wringing.

And so ends the criticism.

Reality is that if the Tigers waited until mid-Summer, there’s a possibility that Verlander may not have wanted to negotiate during the season.  There’s also the possibility that if he’s going great guns during that period of time that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel” regarding his free agency and decide to wait it out another year until he hits the open market, at which point the Tigers would either be unable to retain him or would have to have paid considerably more to do so.

Reality is that a pitcher of Verlander’s combined exhibited talent and potential growth dictates that a four year deal was not a feasible thing for the Tigers to request in negotiations.  The original rumors were saying that there was a possibility that Verlander might demand a sixth year, and it’s both fortunate and admirable that the Tigers were able to hold the contract to five years.

And so viewed through the prism of reality, this signing is a spectacular deal for the Tigers, who got all that they could hope to get at a fair value for both sides.   Felix Hernandez is a younger pitcher and similar in talent — It could be argued whether he or Verlander is better — And Verlander’s deal is almost exactly the same in terms of total value and the number of years.   I’ll be waiting rather impatiently to see what the annual values are of the contract, but for now it appears to be an outstanding signing by the Tigers to make sure that the front end of their rotation is now set for the next five years (as Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer each will not be free agents until after the 2014 season, which is the same time Verlander’s contract expires).

One interesting note in this development is that it truly speaks to how long the Cabrera deal is that this “long term” deal to Justin Verlander will expire before the Cabrera contract.   That statement is not made as a complaint, but as an observation.


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