Verlander looking past arbitration
Right-hander determined to regain 'dominant' form
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has spent his offseason focused on making the adjustments to rebound from last year, but looking past it toward the new season. His lingering arbitration case, he indicated, isn't going to affect him.
That's a good outlook for all sides involved, since it's a process that's currently heading toward a potential hearing later this month.
"It's interesting. This is my first time going through it, obviously," Verlander said during TigerFest last month. "And really, this the first time a player is compensated [according to] what they've been able to do the past few years. So we'll see what happens."
"I'm not nervous at all. It's a system that's been built for this reason, so that usually means it works out to be pretty fair."
Dave Dombrowski has not encountered an arbitration hearing since he took over as general manager of the Tigers in 2002. Verlander's case is the closest he has come. As hearings with players begin in Arizona this week, Detroit has yet to strike a deal with its young ace and lone remaining arbitration case, but both sides still have time. And Dombrowski sounded upbeat that some sort of deal can still be struck.
"We're really still hopeful that we can get a deal negotiated and not go to arbitration," Dombrowski said Monday.
A hearing has been scheduled for the two sides. Though Dombrowski declined to reveal the specific date, the Detroit Free Press reported it is slated for Feb. 13. Dombrowski stated that negotiations are ongoing toward a deal to avoid having to meet in front of the arbitrator.
"We continue to have conversations," Dombrowski said.
When the two sides submitted figures last month, the difference was just under a million dollars -- the Tigers at $3.2 million, Verlander at $4.15 million. While the two sides can settle anywhere in between, an arbitrator would pick one figure or the other.
The two sides can negotiate a deal anytime leading up to the hearing, and even during it. Once the hearing takes place, however, the window for compromise pretty much closes, with a ruling usually coming from the arbitrator within 24 hours.
It's an intriguing situation with the track of Verlander's career, the success he has had and the age when he had it.
Verlander won 35 games in his first two full Major League seasons in 2006-07, establishing himself among baseball's bright young starters. Last season was a step back, not so much because of his 17 losses but with more than a full run added to his ERA, raising it to 4.84 ERA. His back-to-back 201-inning seasons leave his workhorse status intact, but his dominance and consistency in those innings admittedly weren't the same.
The way Verlander described his season, the feel of his pitching wasn't the same, either. He called it an aberration, and he has made it an offseason priority to regain that feeling of domination that he had built over the previous couple seasons.
"Even in the middle of that [early summer] streak, when I had those 10-12 games where I threw the ball really well, it still wasn't quite there -- the domination," Verlander said. "I don't want to say I expect it, but when things are going good, I can go out and dominate a game. It didn't quite feel the same way. It was close, just like everything was close last year, but I feel like some of the stuff I'm doing this year is going to have good dividends."
Part of Verlander's approach to moving on is to get back to doing some of the things that made him successful in the first place, both with his throwing program and his offseason workouts. He worked with strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett, he said, to make his upper-body work less intensive to try to regain some flexibility. His throwing program not only started earlier, but included more long tossing to stretch out his arm, getting back to what had been a tried-and-true part of his training.
"I've always been a long-toss guy," Verlander said, "and after my first year as a rookie , my arm fatigued so quickly [that] I kind of got away from that and never really got back on it. I don't think that had a toll the next year, but two years later -- last year -- I think maybe I changed my mechanics and my arm changed from not long tossing. I'm trying to get back to the basics and do what I do."
He feels the difference now, he says, and so does his usual long-toss partner. Jeremy Bonderman has noticed more late life on his throws, Verlander said, because Bonderman has been caught by surprise by how quickly the ball closes in on him.
Considering he still has many bullpen sessions to go, it isn't a surefire sign, but it's a good start. Whatever happens with his contract will have no effect on that preparation for Verlander, one player who understands the process. Verlander's father is a union negotiator, and Verlander knows enough not to take the process personally.
So, for that matter, do the Tigers.
"If you can negotiate a settlement yourself, you try to do so," Dombrowski said. "There are times in which you can't, and it comes to a point where it's a necessity."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.