Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in baseball, which makes it imperative for the Tigers to re-sign him. I believe the only way to ensure that he stays in a Tigers uniform beyond 2014, when he is scheduled to become a free agent, is to make him baseball's first $200 million pitcher.
While Verlander still has two full seasons before he hits free agency, the sooner the Tigers sign him to an extension, the better. The speculation over his impending free agency could become an unnecessary distraction to a team that has a very good shot at winning the World Series in 2013.
Here are the top three reasons why the Tigers need to sign Verlander to the first $200 million extension for a pitcher.
Justin Verlander, who is 30 years old, already has two career no-hitters, a Cy Young award and an AL MVP award with the Detroit Tigers.
When factoring in his career win-loss record of 124-65, 3.40 earned run average and 1,454 strikeouts in seven full seasons, you realize how special Verlander is.
Some pitchers would be thrilled with those numbers throughout their career, but Verlander isn't like most pitchers. He wants to expand on his statistics to ensure he gets elected to the Hall of Fame.
While nothing is ever guaranteed in baseball, Verlander has as close of a chance as any pitcher to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. Verlander is in the prime of his career and has been remarkably injury-free. His body is very durable and no one has ever expressed any concerns of him losing his effectiveness as he ages.
Verlander has set the Hall of Fame as his goal, and is not afraid of talking about it in public. He openly spoke about it to Bob Nightengale of USA Today before the 2012 World Series:
Well, I want to get to that level. I don't think anybody's goal is to be mediocre. I think everybody should want to be the best. I've always felt that way. I want to be at the best at everything I do.
I want to be in the Hall of Fame one day.
With Verlander's competitiveness, you won't find too many people who would bet against him.
It's imperative to the Tigers that he spends his entire career in Detroit so that if he does get elected, he will proudly go in wearing the Old English D on his hat.
It would sting the Tigers organization if Verlander goes to another team after the 2014 season and wins one or two World Series trophies plus another Cy Young award. In that scenario, he could potentially be linked more closely with that organization instead.
A $200 million extension would go a long way to ensuring that Verlander would enter Cooperstown as a Tiger. Plus, the Tigers would be able to recoup some of their money through marketing and events related to Verlander's induction into the Hall of Fame.
Questions remain about the Detroit Tigers' long-term future due to owner Mike Ilitch's age. Ilitch himself hasn't publicly addressed what will happen with the Tigers once he's no longer owner.
By signing Justin Verlander to a $200 million contract, it would show other free agents that the Tigers are planning to remain competitive.
On Apr. 5, 2012, Ilitch had an interview with Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press and raised more doubt regarding the future of the Tigers with his non-answer:
Have you contemplated when, if ever, you would turn the reins of your teams over?
Yeah. If I'm just sitting around, not playing a role. If I don't have the energy.
Would you turn them over to one of your children?
Well, it can go a lot of different ways. I really don't want to get into that. But I know it's close by.
Due to Ilitch's vague reference regarding the future, there is one true way to ease a lot of concerns: Pay Verlander.
Justin Verlander even spoke directly about the Tigers' long-term future to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports on Feb. 13, “If they did want to extend (my contract), obviously that would take quite a commitment on their part. That shows a sign, too, that they’re planning for the future.”
While a $200 million contract for a pitcher is unheard of, the risk decreases significantly for a pitcher as durable as Justin Verlander. The big positive that would come from giving Verlander $200 million is that it would go a long way in sending a message to all the future free agents—that the Tigers are serious about winning for the foreseeable future.
The Detroit Tigers need to be smart in discussing a contract extension with Justin Verlander. A $200 million deal could be the only way to ensure that Verlander doesn't test free agency.
Whether it was conjecture or he was serious, Verlander struck a different tone when discussing his future with a national writer, instead of one of the local beat writers.
Verlander told Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports on Feb. 13:
You know how competitive I am, Verlander said. It’s kind of fun thinking about having teams battle for you.
Verlander's competitiveness is legendary; it is what makes him one of the top starters in baseball. Verlander wants to win at everything, so setting a record by becoming the first pitcher in baseball with a $200 million contract is probably extremely appealing to him.
He also knows that at the end of the 2014 season, he'll be 31 years old, and some big-market team would jump at the chance to make him the richest pitcher in baseball.
Verlander previously made his love for the Tigers and Detroit known when he spoke with James Schmehl of MLive.com on Jan. 25:
I've made it no secret that I love Detroit, he said. 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.
At this point, it appears that the only way the Tigers can satisfy Verlander's competitive edge and keep him a Tiger is to have him become the first $200 million pitcher.