Tigers invest $80 million in ace Justin Verlander
DETROIT – Justin Verlander likely would have earned a nine-figure contract if was able to stay healthy and successful for two more seasons.
Instead, Verlander agreed to an $80 million, five-year deal to stay with the Detroit Tigers.
“It wasn’t very tempting, to be honest,” he insisted Thursday after the contract was finalized. “It’s fun to think about, but why risk anything else if you know this is where you want to play baseball? And, I certainly don’t plan on my career being over in five years.”
In fact, Verlander is aiming at an honor that could potentially happen five years after he retires.
“I have one goal, and that’s to make it to the Hall of Fame,” he said. “If you get there, you’ve done some things right.”
The Tigers will get a good return on their investment if he makes progress toward that lofty destination. In the meantime, they won’t have to deal with the possibly trading the right-hander or risking losing him in free agency.
Verlander’s deal that avoids a salary arbitration hearing includes a $500,000 signing bonus, $6.75 million this season, $12.75 million next year and $20 million in each of the following three seasons. He would have been eligible for free agency after the 2011 World Series.
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said it was “a very happy moment for the organization” during a news conference at Comerica Park.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and someone who can anchor our staff over the next five years,” Dombrowski said.
Verlander is the only pitcher in baseball history to pitch a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be voted Rookie of the Year and a selected an All-Star in his first two full seasons.
The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year tied for the major league lead with 19 wins last season. He led the majors with 269 strikeouts, 240 innings and 35 starts, and had a career-best 3.45 ERA.
Detroit has appeased some fans upset by the franchise trading All-Stars Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson and choosing not to re-sign free agents Placido Polanco and Fernando Rodney.
“That was tough seeing Curtis, Edwin, Polanco and Rodney go,” Verlander acknowledged. “But when I took a step back and looked at what we got in return, I actually got excited about it.”
Detroit signed closer Jose Valverde with a $14 million, two-year deal last month in another decision that Dombrowski said proves he wasn’t only interested in cutting costs this offseason.
“When you talk about this signing, you can see that we’re backing up what we’re saying,” he said.
If Dombrowski makes another move, it would be to bolster the offense. He declined to say whether the club is interested in signing free agent outfielder Johnny Damon, who would add a much-needed, left-handed bat.
When figures were exchanged last month in arbitration, Verlander asked for $9.5 million for next season and the team offered $6.9 million. He made $3,675,000 last season.
The two-time All-Star got $2 million more than a comparable pitcher, Felix Hernandez, who likewise has played four full seasons in the majors. Hernandez also avoided arbitration with a $78 million, five-year deal with the Seattle Mariners this offseason. Verlander, 65-43 in his career with a 3.92 ERA, turns 27 this month. Hernandez, who is 58-41 with a 3.45 ERA, will be 24 in April.
Verlander was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 2006 as a rookie and helped Detroit advance to the World Series for the first time since 1984. He became the first Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Jack Morris did it during the 1984 championship season.
“The guy throws 95 to 100,” Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder said after Verlander’s no-hitter. “So you’re not looking for a slider, and when he throws it that good for a strike it just kind of buckles you and you have to tip your cap.”
Verlander was 18-6 in his second season and made the All-Star team. Only Dwight Gooden, who won 41 games for the New York Mets during the 1984-85 seasons, had more victories among pitchers in their first two full seasons since 1970.
After struggling two years ago with an 11-17 record, Verlander bounced back with a sensational season in 2009.
“Looking at five years up the road, I’m glad he’s already had his struggles and learned how to deal with it,” Dombrowski said.
“I think it helps a lot, not only long term but after a bad start to know you have the guts to turn it around and to trust in yourself,” he said.
Verlander had the highest single-season total of strikeouts in the AL since Pedro Martinez in 2000 and the most wins by a Tiger since Bill Gullickson in 1991. He became the first Detroit pitcher to lead baseball in innings pitched since Morris in 1983.
Former teammate Kenny Rogers said Verlander’s wicked fastball, wildly breaking curve and knee-buckling changeup give him an assortment of pitches that reminded him only of Nolan Ryan.
Verlander insisted comparisons like that and the contract he has signed won’t change him or his mindset.
“There’s no more pressure on my shoulders because I make more money,” he said.
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