Adam Wainwright isn’t the only ace to sign a massive extension this week; he’s not even the one with the biggest deal now. According to ESPN, Justin Verlander just signed the largest deal for a pitcher in history, signing through 2019 for $180 million. He was already under contract through 2014 with $40 million left on his deal, so this is more of a $140 million over 5 year set up (with a $22 million option for 2020). How does it compare to Wainwright’s, or the rest of the league?
Well, to start with, since he was under contract for the next two years, this covers his ages 32 through 36 seasons (the same ages that Wainwright’s extension covers, interestingly). With all pitchers, you have to be concerned about durability, especially at that age. But Verlander is a better pitcher than most to bet on—he’s never thrown less than 186 innings in a full season, and never fewer than 200 since his Rookie of the Year campaign.
Even the normal loss of ability is less of an issue with Verlander—he’s starting at a much higher level than most, meaning there’s more of a chance of remaining useful through the entirety of his decline. Really, you couldn’t ask for a stronger track record. Over the past four years, he’s been hovering at 240 innings, 9 K/9, a low 2 BB/9 rate, a Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.00, and 7 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs).
Wins Above Replacement is great for estimating a player’s value, too. Most estimates place 1 WAR on the free market at $5 million. So, at $180 million, Verlander comes in at 36 WAR over seven years, or about five wins per season.
Let’s say he keeps his current pace up for the next two years, then drops about 1 win per year every year after that. That would be a rapid drop off (although an injury might do it), likely to an unreasonable level, but it makes for nice round numbers. That still comes out to 34 WAR, a respectable amount. Not a discount by any means, but that’s also a rather pessimistic look.
On top of that, baseball has been undergoing some rapid inflation. With the league’s large profits, the Dodgers’ big spending, and most alternative areas of funding (draft bonuses and international free agents) being artificially capped, many people have been predicting salaries to continue to increase over the next few years. With Verlander already a decent bet to reach his contract’s value, any ensuing inflation will only make the chances that he’s worth his contract even better.
The Tigers don’t even have the concerns of blocking a younger option like the Cardinals—they lack top starter prospects near the majors (for example, see Fanraphs’ organizational rankings, where reliever Bruce Rondon and 18-year old Jake Thompson lead the way), but are in win-now mode and operating with a huge budget.
I can't really see another option that would have made more sense for them. Really, although pitchers are inherently risky creatures, even more so when spending the GDP of small nations, I can’t think of a better pitcher to bet on with this kind of deal than Justin Verlander, even after you factor in that he’ll be 36 or 37 when it ends.
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