As soon as Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners finalized a five-year, $135.5 million contract extension, Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan discussed the inevitability of a $200 million pitcher.
Passan named David Price, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw as the top candidates to sign such an unprecedented deal. Bleacher Report takes it one step further by quantifying the odds of each reaching that mark.
These recent Cy Young Award winners have the durability, command, advanced repertoires and bright futures to justify commitments of at least $200 million.
The question is who will get there first.
David Price (Tampa Bay Rays)
The small-market Rays can only contend when their draft picks pan out.
Even by No. 1 overall standards, Price has overachieved.
He lasts deep into games, having averaged nearly seven innings per start in 2012. Also, Price's walk rate and performance against right-handed batters have steadily improved from year to year.
The southpaw has completely avoided the disabled list. With a long, lean build, there's no reason to suspect significant injuries in the future.
But it's difficult to imagine Tampa Bay making him a nine-figure offer, much less one in the $200 million range. The team perennially operates with a low payroll. Even Andrew Friedman, a brilliant general manager, wouldn't be able to build a well-rounded roster with Price and Evan Longoria in the fold.
Unless the Tennessee native decides to sign at a steep discount, he'll be traded to some club with the resources to lock him up for the long term. By then, Verlander and Kershaw will probably have already completed their extensions.
Odds of getting first $200 million deal: 10 percent.
Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)
Since 2010, Verlander is the only American League pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-3.00 FIP (min. 500 innings pitched).
Pretty impressive, right?
Actually, the greatest beauty is in his start-to-start consistency. The right-hander has pitched at least five innings in 99 of 100 regular-season outings over that span.
This soon-to-be 30-year-old is awesome any way you interpret his past performance. Those worried about him slowing down need only watch him throw triple-digit gas the third time through a lineup.
Detroit's recent additions of Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez indicate an eagerness to win. Verlander approves of the moves and admits to MLB.com's Jason Beck that he dreams of remaining in Motown:
Jason Beck @beckjason
Verlander: No talks yet with #Tigers on contract extension, but he'd like to be a Tiger for his whole career.1/24/2013, 5:26:47 PM
To make that a reality, however, the franchise may be required to commit $30 million annually—a tough task given Verlander's age, even despite his career's consistency.
Odds of getting first $200 million deal: 20 percent.
Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)
GM Ned Colletti tells Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that Kershaw and the Dodgers have "mutual interest" in a contract extension.
Negotiations reportedly haven't begun, but once they do, the process should be relatively quick. Both sides will aim for a lengthy agreement.
Obviously, Kershaw wants to cash in while new ownership is in such a free-spending mood. No other franchise can match L.A.'s resources right now.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, ought to be concerned about the lack of high-ceiling pitchers in their farm system. Rather than hoping for prospects to develop or settling for less dominant free agents, they prefer to retain their left-handed ace.
Kershaw throws strikes to begin nearly two-thirds of his plate appearances. Opposing batters get overaggressive and panicked after falling behind in the count, which is why so few reach base against him. And the exceptions don't get far: He has picked off dozens of men during his five MLB seasons and caught about half of all would-be base-stealers.
The best thing about this rotation leader? He turns 25 in March. Kershaw trumps Price in terms of overall experience and success, and he's half a decade younger than Verlander.
Don't be surprised if the Dodgers pay him prior to Opening Day.
Odds of getting first $200 million deal: 55 percent.
Though each member of this elite trio will receive a monstrous deal eventually, none of them necessarily has to agree to terms in 2013. Verlander and Kershaw only become free agents after the 2014 World Series, while Price has to wait until the following winter.
That leaves Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright—all of whom have expiring contracts—as dark horses for the first $200 million guarantee. Collectively, there's about a 15 percent chance that someone from this second tier does it.
Which major league pitcher do you think will reach the money milestone before his peers? Express your views on Twitter, in this poll or in the comments section below.
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