Verlander, Tigers finalize five-year deal
Right-hander says $80 million contract won't change him
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander might be one of the most competitive athletes in baseball. He just won some long-term security.
The Tigers, in turn, won the services of their ace for five more years, signing Verlander to an $80 million extension that will keep one of baseball's brightest young starters in Detroit through 2014.
Verlander will receive a $500,000 signing bonus. He'll earn $6.75 million this year, $12.75 million in 2011 and $20 million in each of the following three seasons.
It became official in a rare February news conference for the Tigers, who haven't had a media event this close to Spring Training since they signed Magglio Ordonez in 2005. But it shows just how significant of a signing this is for Detroit, both short and long term.
To punctuate the point, the Tigers had Verlander sign the contract on the podium in a formal ceremony as cameras snapped and team officials smiled.
"It's a very happy moment for the organization," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "To me, he's one of the best pitchers in the game of baseball, and somebody that can anchor our staff here over the next five years with some other quality young pitchers. He puts us in position to trot out one of the best starting staffs in the game."
Though the Tigers have been watching their 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 team's Winter Caravan and at TigerFest last month backed up the perception. One fan who got an autograph from Verlander at TigerFest asked him to please not leave Detroit.
"You know, when it comes down to it, I feel like I've grown up in this city," Verlander said. "I've made a name for myself here, and I love the old English 'D'. The fans have always supported me since Day 1. I think that means a lot. I feel at home here."
The deal pretty much keeps him home. The five-year contract will cover Verlander's two remaining arbitration years and three years of potential free agency. He should still be in his prime years then -- just about to turn 32 -- so Verlander could easily get another long-term deal if he continues to stay healthy and productive.
Verlander could've chosen to take a chance and hit the open market in two years as likely the most coveted pitcher on the market. In the end, he insists, that didn't interest him.
"It wasn't very tempting, to be honest," Verlander said. "I mean, it's fun to think about. But you know what? For all the reasons I touched on earlier about being a Tiger at heart, that's where I want to be. Why risk anything else if you know that this is where you want to play baseball? There's really no point.
"I certainly don't plan on my career being over in five years, so I hope to be around here a lot longer."
Verlander's turnaround in 2009 was at the heart of Detroit's run to within a game of the AL Central crown. A year after sharing the Major League lead in losses with 17, the 26-year-old 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 with Detroit, but with 14 seasons, he had a pretty long Tigers tenure. With a five-year contract, Verlander is in line to make it at least a decade.
Both team officials and Verlander had been quiet about the talks before Thursday's news conference. One catalyst to help get talks going was the five-year, $78 million contract the Mariners negotiated with Felix Hernandez. 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 2009 American League Cy Young Award voting, behind winner Zack Greinke.
Verlander's agents, Mike Milchin and Mark Pieper, downplayed the contractual similarities.
"Certainly Felix is somebody we look at as an incredibly good second-time arbitration-eligible starter," Milchin said. "But I think that we all, on our side, we think Justin's a little different. We think he's a special guy. He's got some makeup and some other things that I think are special qualities. Justin has certainly portrayed what the club means to him, and I think that Justin's a valuable part of the Tigers.
"Dave and [team legal counsel] John [Westhoff], as always, were incredibly professional for us to work with. It was actually pretty easy and not too much of a struggle, I think, to accomplish what we did today."
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.
Verlander's 244 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.
Verlander's work ethic reinforced the Tigers' confidence.
"There's a gamble on anybody that you sign long-term," Dombrowski said. "But to gamble on somebody that has premium talent, premium work ethic, has been a Tiger since Day 1 -- and you really know the person and know those things about him -- if you're going to be aggressive and make things happen, those are the people you need to keep in your organization."
The contract, Dombrowski said, won't change that. Verlander backed that up.
"They know I'm not going to change," Verlander said. "Day in and day out, I want to win baseball games. It doesn't matter whether I'm making one cent or a billion dollars. It's not going to change my personality, especially when I step on the mound."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.