Though it was known negotiations had gotten under way, both the Tigers and Verlander have been quiet about the talks. One catalyst to help get talks going was the five-year, $78 million contract Felix Hernandez received from the Mariners in January. Like Hernandez, Verlander would've been eligible for free agency after the 2011 season without a deal. Both of them finished in the top three in voting for the 2009 American League Cy Young Award, behind winner Zack Greinke.
"With long-term deals, it's to each his own," Verlander said. "Every player, it's basically what you're willing to sell your rights for, because that's what you're selling. You're selling rights to arbitration and free agency."
Given that context, the reported numbers make sense. Verlander is a self-admitted highly competitive young man. Getting even $2 million more than Hernandez in the total value of the contract would be a big deal, though Verlander initially downplayed the significance of Hernandez's contact when it was first announced.
For the Tigers, keeping Verlander for the long term is a huge deal. Though Detroit has been watching its finances lately, Verlander is the unquestioned face of the franchise, even at the tender age of 26. The reaction he received from fans on the Tigers Winter Caravan and at TigerFest last month backed up the perception. One fan who got an autograph from Verlander at TigerFest asked him please not to leave Detroit.
The reported deal would pretty much take care of that, barring a trade down the road. The five-year contract would cover Verlander's two remaining arbitration years and three years of potential free agency, keeping him off the open market until after the 2014 season. He would still be in his prime years then -- just about to turn 32 -- so he could easily get another long-term deal if he continues to stay healthy and productive.
Verlander's turnaround in 2009 was at the heart of the Tigers' run to within a game of the AL Central crown. A year after sharing the Major League lead in losses with 17, the right-hander tied for the big league lead in wins with a 19-9 record. His 269 strikeouts, 240 innings and 35 starts all led the Majors in what was the most dominant season from a Tigers starter since Jack Morris two decades earlier.
Morris didn't spend his entire career as a Tiger, but with 14 seasons in Detroit, he had a pretty long Tiger tenure. With a five-year contract, Verlander is in line to make it at least a decade for him in Detroit.
In the end, Verlander had to weigh the prospect of long-term security in Detroit against the chance to be the most coveted free agent on the market in two years if he remained healthy and productive.
There's certainly some risk on that end from the Tigers, who have seen Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, and Dontrelle Willis all miss significant time with injuries and inconsistency since signing long-term deals. Dombrowski made a rare admission as such during TigerFest last month.
"We were probably too liberal in giving long-term contracts to players," Dombrowski said at the time. "A couple of those contracts didn't work out."
Verlander's 240 innings led the Majors last year, and his 3,937 total pitches were 305 more than the next-highest total from Hernandez. But Verlander hasn't had a major injury since turning pro, and he is meticulous about an offseason workout program that he credits for allowing him to throw so hard for so many pitches one outing after another. So far, there are no physical indications that Verlander can't keep up his workload.
Regardless of the risk, and regardless whether the Tigers spend big in the years ahead -- they have potentially more than $50 million in contracts expiring after this season -- they had to make every effort to re-sign Verlander now.