Ace reportedly will earn $28 million per year, most ever for pitcher, starting in '15
By Jason Beck
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander casually mentioned in January how cool it would be to spend his entire career in a Tigers uniform. He took one big step toward doing that on Friday.
The Tigers, meanwhile, took care of their biggest contract question for the rest of the decade. With a five-year contract extension, they can keep Verlander in a Detroit uniform through at least 2019, and perhaps through 2020.
"It's tough to say how much I love Detroit," Verlander said Friday. "It's tough to put into words. It's a unique situation where I was drafted by the Tigers. I've felt like I grew up in front of these fans, and they've been extremely supportive of me and this ballclub since Day 1. They're the best fans in baseball. That's something special, and that's a big reason why I wanted to stick around here. We're a kindred spirit. I want to win a World Series not only for myself and for my teammates, but for the fans of Detroit, too. They deserve it."
Verlander, 30, will make $28 million each season from 2015-2019, the years of the extension, and could vest a $22 million option for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019.
ESPN's Buster Olney first reported the contract terms.
Verlander has two years remaining on the five-year, $79.5 million contract he signed after the 2009 season. He will make $20 million in each of those seasons.
Add those two seasons, with the reported terms of the extension, including the option, and Verlander would be baseball's first $200 million pitcher.
"It's obviously very intriguing," Verlander admitted. "The fact is, I have a chance to get to the $200 million contract. I just have to earn it."
Even without the option, the $180 million guaranteed to Verlander over the next seven years eclipses Felix Hernandez's seven-year, $175 million contract with the Mariners for the largest deal ever for a Major League pitcher.
"Obviously it's a pretty special feeling," Verlander said. "It's nice, because I've worked extremely hard for this. It's not like I just go out there every fifth day and just throw my hat out there. A lot of hard work has gone into this since I was five years old. Obviously it wasn't hard work when I was five."
Verlander just turned 30 last month. He went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and 239 strikeouts in 33 starts last season, topping the American League with six complete games, 238 1/3 innings pitched and 239 strikeouts. He came within a couple votes of a second consecutive American League Cy Young award to go with the AL MVP award he won in 2011, when he won the pitching Triple Crown by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
With the exception of a 17-loss season in 2008, Verlander has been a model of consistency, winning at least 17 games in each of his other six full Major League seasons. He has led the league in strikeouts in three of the last four seasons.
No active Major League pitcher with less than 10 seasons of experience has a higher Wins Above Replacement total than Verlander, who ranks just outside the top 10 of cumulative WAR for all active pitchers.
"Justin is one of the premier pitchers in baseball and we are thrilled to keep him in a Tigers uniform for many years to come," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. "Justin has been a Tiger for his entire career and he is on pace to be one of the greatest pitchers in this illustrious franchise's history."
Verlander also has been a model of durability, making at least 30 starts in all seven of his full Major League seasons, and topping 200 innings annually since 2007. Add in his postseason work, and Verlander has thrown 538 innings and 7,709 pitches over the last two years.
For a fair number of pitchers, those kinds of numbers would be warning signs. For Verlander -- whose combination of clean mechanics and a dedicated offseason workout regimen has helped him avoid significant injury -- it's less of a concern. He's never spent a day of his career on the disabled list.
Moreover, with four above-average Major League pitches, Verlander has a repertoire that should allow him to age well as he heads through his 30s, even if he loses some velocity with age.
"I'm sure there are some stats that after 35, certain things start to get a little more questionable," Dombrowski said. "But he not only has great physical ability, he knows how to pitch. He has four pitches, five pitches. He knows how to pitch as that carries forward."
Though Verlander brushed off any sense of urgency about getting an extension done this spring, he made it clear last week that he didn't want to negotiate during the season. With next season being the final year on his previous deal, he would have been close enough to free agency that he might have been tempted to test the open market.
Verlander admitted this spring that free agency was intriguing, but he has been at least as intrigued by the idea of spending his entire career in Detroit. When he first talked about it in January, he mentioned Chipper Jones, the just-retired Braves star who spent two decades in Atlanta.
That kind of career, and the special recognition Jones has for it, resonated with Verlander.
"I didn't really think about the fanfare that he got, more the admiration for him and that organization," Verlander said. "He played his Hall of Fame career for one team and there's no question he's going to be in the Hall of Fame in an Atlanta Braves hat. I think that's something special, and you don't see that too often in today's game anymore. I think the fans of that city really appreciate that."
Thanks to this extension, it's in his grasp. His contract includes full no-trade rights, which he would've gained anyway in a few years as a player with 10 Major League seasons with the same team. With the option year included, the deal would take him to his 38th birthday.
He doesn't plan on retiring after that. He doesn't plan on leaving, either.
"I think it's only natural to wonder what free agency is like," Verlander said. "But the pull from wanting to be in Detroit far outweighed that. Once we started contract talks, I wanted to stay in Detroit, and I wasn't shy about saying that. I think it all worked out."
Here are the 44 contracts of more than $100 million that have been signed since Kevin Brown's deal first broke the barrier in 1999 (asterisks identify contract extensions).
Ken Griffey Jr.
Sources: Cot's Baseball Contracts, The Associated Press and MLB.com archives
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.