It's a significant one. Verlander filed a request for a $9.5 million, while the Tigers submitted a salary figure of $6.9 million.
As big as those numbers are, a difference of $2.6 million, Verlander's contract situation in general looms larger, and it impacts the Tigers' long-term situation as well as baseball's pitching landscape. After the Marlins signed Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million contract last week and the Mariners neared agreement with Felix Hernandez on a reported five-year contract Tuesday, Verlander could stand as the last of the unsigned among the trio of young aces who could have become free agents after the 2011 season.
Neither team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski nor anyone from Verlander's side has commented on the contract situation.
"We've said all along that we're hopeful to keep Justin Verlander part of our organization for a long time," Dombrowski said Tuesday on a conference call to discuss the signing of closer Jose Valverde.
Most likely, the Tigers will work to reach a one-year contract and avoid arbitration first, and then approach longer-term talks. They used the same strategy two years ago with Miguel Cabrera, who eventually signed an extension just before the end of Spring Training to make his contract worth eight years and $152.3 million.
How much Hernandez's new contract impacts Verlander's situation is likely a work in progress, but it's definitely intriguing, given the similarity of their careers and their stats. While Verlander and Hernandez were among the Major League leaders with 19 victories in 2009, Verlander topped the big leagues with 269 strikeouts, 240 innings pitched and 35 starts. Hernandez and Verlander finished second and third, respectively, in American League Cy Young Award voting.
For their careers, Hernandez is the most similar among active pitchers, according to baseball-reference.com. While Verlander's 3.92 ERA is nearly a half-run higher than that of Hernandez, he has seven more victories (65 to 58) and a slightly higher winning percentage (.602 to .586). Hernandez has thrown 65 more innings, but over six more career starts.
Recent years and recent deals around baseball suggest that if a long-term contract is going to get done with a young pitcher, it's most likely to happen two years away from free agency, when long-term security appeals to a pitcher the most. Though the two sides have another offseason to work on a deal before Verlander hits free agency, the injury risk carries less weight on a player with just one year to go.
There's also the question of the Tigers' situation at that point, not simply financially but competitively. Tuesday's Valverde signing was a sign that the club still expects to contend in 2010, enough so to make a proven closer making $7 million a year worthwhile. The highly-competitive Verlander has demonstrated his desire to win.
Verlander will turn 27 on Feb. 20. He'll be on track to hit free agency just before his 29th birthday.
The bright side for the Tigers is that Verlander stands as the one major issue remaining. They agreed to terms with Seay for $2,475,000, a significant raise from the $1.3 million contract the left-handed reliever signed last year.
The 31-year-old Seay went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA last year in a career-high 67 appearances. Left-handed hitters batted .261 with a .688 OPS against him, compared with a .239 average and .715 OPS from right-handed batters. He's part of a suddenly deep bullpen that includes lefties Fu-Te Ni, Daniel Schlereth and potentially Phil Coke, if Coke doesn't crack Detroit's rotation.
Laird settled with the Tigers at $3.95 million, up from $2.8 million last year. The 30-year-old catcher threw out 42 percent of would-be basestealers in 2009, tops in the Majors, but hit .225 with four home runs and 33 RBIs in a career-high 135 games.
Miner, eligible for arbitration for the first time, will earn $950,000 with the chance for $50,000 more in incentives. The 27-year-old right-hander went 7-5 with one save and a 4.29 ERA in 51 games, five of them starts.