Justin Verlander is arguably the top pitcher in baseball, though he's most certainly not paid that way. He and the Detroit Tigers agreed on a five-year, $79.5 million contract extension prior to the 2010 season—just a season before he turned into one of the most dominant hurlers in the game.
Felix Hernandez, a main competitor for the title of baseball's top pitcher, recently signed the richest contract in franchise history when he agreed upon a seven-year, $175 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.
This will keep Hernandez in Seattle for the foreseeable future, but it's unknown as to whether or not Verlander is willing to spend the rest of his career in Detroit.
Earlier in the week, he told John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press that he wants to stay in the city that made him a superstar long-term.
That being said, he also told Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports that he thinks it would be "a blast" if two teams entered a bidding war for his services. In the interview, he cited his competitiveness and intrigue in being battle over by two or more teams.
This statement is bad news for Tigers fans.
Verlander, despite Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown 2012 and Prince Fielder's lovable personality, is the heart and soul of the Tigers. He's led the team to two World Series (2006 and 2012) while also tossing two no-hitters in the process.
He put together arguably the best season by a pitcher in the past quarter-century in 2011, winning the American League Cy Young Award and the AL MVP Award. Here's his line below, and league-leading statistics are in bold.
24-5, 2.40 ERA, 34 G (34 games started), four complete games, two shutouts, 251.0 innings pitched, 250 strikeouts, 172 ERA+, 0.920 WHIP, 6.2 H/9
That season was simply remarkable, but his dominance suggests that a repeat of those numbers in the future may not be impossible.
Verlander won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season, giving the Tigers two more seasons to lock up their franchise ace.
Is this reason to worry for Detroit?
Morosi's piece states that Verlander is in no hurry to agree to an extension with the Tigers, though it also states that he'd be willing to negotiate one.
I still would be worried if I'm the Tigers.
Verlander will surely attract a massive contract. Whether or not he makes $200 million, his goal is unknown (as will the willingness of his suitors to spend that kind of money on a would-be 32-year-old), but he wouldn't be wrong to ask.
Hernandez fell $25 million short of the mark but still will earn an average of $25 million per season.
A potential seven-year deal worth exactly $200 million would average nearly $29 million per season—a mark unprecedented for pitchers.
At that point in time, the Tigers will still have Prince Fielder's $24 million salary on the books and Anibal Sanchez's $16.8 million. Miguel Cabrera will also be a free agent after the 2015 season, and the Tigers will have to make a decision on which star to retain for the future.
Verlander may very well agree to an extension before 2015. He's not counting it out, but he's leaving his options open for now—a smart strategy for a pitcher in his position.
Should the Tigers be foolish enough to allow him to hit the open market, there's a very strong chance he doesn't return.
With teams bidding for his services, a starting point of $180 million or so could easily eclipse $200 million.
The Tigers have shown a willingness to spend in recent years, but they might not even have the cash to bring back baseball's top hurler after he hits free agency in 2012—especially if he continues to dominate opposing lineups like he has the past two seasons.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com