Well folks, what we’ve all been expecting to happened has finally happened. Justin Verlander will be a Tiger (essentially) for life. Today he (effectively) signed the largest contract ever for a pitcher, coming in at a cool 7 years and $180 million with a vesting option for 2020 worth $22 million, for a potential total of $202 million, surpassing Felix Hernandez’s 7 year, $175 million deal from earlier this offseason.
After the Felix deal, I discussed what I thought Verlander was worth and guessed at what he would earn. I figured 8 years and $210 million if he signed this early, but it now looks like the Tigers effectively signed a seven year deal with an option for an eighth given that he is already under contract for 2013-2014. We can debate about whether or not that is a fair comparison, but let’s just think about the deal.
The Tigers now have Verlander through age 36 (37 with the option) and will pay him close to $26 million a season on average. Given the current going rate for a win above replacement (WAR), Verlander needs to be worth around 5 WAR per season on average to earn his keep, but that’s before we adjust for contract inflation which will likely mean he will need to average somewhere around 4.5 WAR per season for the rest of his career.
For now, that should be pretty easy given that he’s been averaging 6 WAR or better for the last four seasons, but we should expect some regression as he ages near the end of the deal. So long as he stays healthy and ages relatively well, the Tigers won’t regret this from a purely baseball perspective.
But it’s more than that. On the field, he’ll probably earn this deal or close to it given his skill level and durability, but he’s also worth a lot to the Tigers as a brand. If you go to Comerica Park, you’ll see more Verlander gear on fans than any other player. He’s the face of the franchise and a huge moneymaker in the pro shop. Plus he’s such a big supporter of the city and fan base as a whole.
I haven’t thought about this enough to be sure, but I’m not sure there is a more beloved athlete by his home fans than Verlander in sports right now. Maybe Tom Brady. Maybe Derek Jeter. But it’s a short list of contenders for a few key reasons. First, Verlander is homegrown. He’s only ever played for the Tigers. Second, he has absolutely no off-field problems like Kobe Bryant or Miguel Cabrera. Third, he embraces the relationship. Fourth, he is really good at baseball.
So I love this deal. It’s a fair price for the Tigers and Verlander gets to become the richest pitcher in the game until Kershaw signs his extension. But I love it because it means Justin Verlander, likely the greatest Tiger of my lifetime thus far, will be a Tiger for his entire career. He will go into Cooperstown having played for only one team. That’s rare today and it demonstrates a level of loyalty that is important to me.
I love athletes who are loyal to their team. Verlander has now locked in that status for life. The Dodgers or Yankees might have offered him more after 2014, but the Tigers offered him enough now, so he took it. He’ll spend the rest of his playing days trying to bring titles to the city that he loves, and more importantly the city that adores him.
If you’re not a Tigers fan, you might not have a good understanding. When Verlander is on the mound, Detroit (and Michigan) stop. When people say, “When’s he pitching next?” you don’t have to ask who they mean.
When he throws a gem, the standing ovation is on another level. We love Justin Verlander in a way that we can’t love most athletes anymore. Either their bad people in the private lives or they jump ship for more money or more glamour. Justin Verlander is neither. They don’t build statues for people who leave town for more money and they can start building his statue now.
He’s the real deal. If he blows out his elbow in two years, I won’t look back on this deal as a mistake. At this moment in time, he is worth it. He’s more worth it than any other pitcher in the game and he means more to Detroit than he ever would to anyone else.
Justin Verlander will be a Tiger for life. He will, for now, be the richest pitcher on the planet. Opening Day is in three days and his first home start should be eight days from now. I promise you, when he leads the team onto the field with “Til I Collapse” playing on the stadium speakers, Comerica Park could cave in.
Detroit has always loved Justin Verlander. Now we know he loves us too.
Editor’s Note: This was perhaps not even the coolest thing JV did today. See below.