Resolving Justin Verlander's Future with the Detroit Tigers

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Resolving Justin Verlander's Future with the Detroit Tigers
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The Tigers need to sign Verlander to a contract extension soon.

Justin Verlander is one of the top pitchers in baseball, and the Detroit Tigers have to ensure that he spends his whole career in a Tigers uniform.

It will be easier said than done, and how the Tigers and Verlander approach an extension will be the tough part. Since the end of last season, I have believed that the Tigers should have made signing Verlander to an extension their first offseason move, but unfortunately that wasn't the case.

According to James Schmehl at Mlive.com, Verlander reiterated his love for Detroit and mentioned spending his whole career as a Tiger:

I've made it no secret that I love Detroit. I grew up in front of these fans. I feel like I've been a big part of this city and this city has become a big part of me. So, obviously, I'd love to play my career here.

When asked about Verlander being a Tiger back in October, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports  , "For sure. We'd like to have him be a Detroit Tiger for his career.''

So with both Verlander and Dombrowski on the same page about Verlander staying in Detroit, you might think that an extension would happen quickly—particularly early in the offseason—but clearly that was not the case.

With baseball contracts going sky-high for starting pitchers with even less talent than Verlander, the Tigers would have little chance of re-signing him if he ever hit the free-agent market. That is why, with Verlander two seasons away from free agency, this would have been the perfect time to come to an agreement.

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Since the end of last season, a few factors have made signing him a lot more expensive and difficult.

 

The first was watching Zack Greinke sign a six-year, $147 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Greinke is not as good as Verlander, so Verlander might figure that he deserves to get $200 million from the Tigers. 

According to Schmehl, when asked about becoming the first $200 million pitcher, Verlander said:

You know me and how competitive I am with every aspect of everything. I'm my own individual. I don't look at anybody else and say he did this or that. It's what I'm comfortable with when it comes to something like that.

If I were the GM of the Tigers, I would start to get worried about Verlander's initial asking price.

As Schmehl mentioned in his article, the next factor is the new TV deals that are coming up. It's crazy how the Dodgers are going to get between $7 and $8 billion for a 20-year deal.

I predict this TV deal will set off a war between teams trying to one-up each other. With this newfound money, teams can distribute the cash to free agents, which will hurt the teams that are locked into older TV deals.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

According to Forbes, the Tigers current TV deal that was signed with Fox SportsNet Detroit in 2008 is for 10 years and $400 million. At the time, it was one of the more lucrative TV deals in baseball, but in a few short years it's already been eclipsed by 10 times the amount. 

The Dodgers getting up to $400 million a year, which is the value of the Tigers' whole TV deal, shows how much more creative the Tigers front office will need to be in the future to keep their star players.

The bottom line is that the Tigers will struggle to compete with the teams in the larger markets for free agents. While Verlander may want to stay in Detroit, money still talks, and other teams have an excess of it.

 

Another factor that the Tigers need to take into account is the eventual change in the quality of Verlander's stuff when he loses some velocity on his fastball, which is inevitable. Verlander has been a remarkably durable workhorse with an easy throwing motion.

Still, the question remains: Will Verlander overcompensate when he loses his velocity and change his mechanics? 

The Tigers aren't like the New York Yankees, who can absorb bad contracts. They need to make sure each player performs to the level that he is paid.

Will Verlander be worth around $25 million per year when he is 36 or 37 years old? That is what the Tigers are potentially looking at.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Tigers are already stretched thin as a Midwest team, and who knows how much longer they'll be able to maintain their payroll at the current level. If Verlander gets injured or isn't successful, then the Tigers may not be able to afford young players or unload his contract.

I know this sounds negative, but I'm just trying to remain realistic for the future.

The last and most important factor that makes signing Verlander more difficult is that pitcher Anibal Sanchez re-signed with the Tigers for five years, $80 million.

While Sanchez is a good pitcher, he is still the Tigers' No. 4 pitcher in the starting rotation. I can't see why Verlander would accept any "hometown discount," especially when the Tigers have been spending so much money on other players.

With other starting pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez signing extensions, I would rather have Verlander as the benchmark contract than those two.

While I think Verlander wants to stay in Detroit, he needs to look in the mirror and ask himself what he is willing to sacrifice to make it a reality so he can help himself as well as the Tigers.

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