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Dontrelle Willis is Officially a Long-Term Investment

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I'm a little bit late on this, but the Detroit Tigers signed one of their left-handed starting pitchers to a long-term contract earlier this afternoon. That trade with the Florida Marlins looks even better now that Dontrelle Willis has agreed to a three-year, $29 million deal.

Willis would've been eligible for free agency in 2009 (though there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion over that - at least on my part - after Detroit acquired him), but this keeps him under the Tigers' control through 2010. According to Danny Knobler, the contract breaks down into $7 million in 2008, $10 million in 2009, and $12 million in 2009. Each year also carries $500,000 in incentives attached to his finish in the Cy Young Award balloting.

As Jon Paul Morosi wrote in the Freep, this is a pretty telling sign (perhaps obviously so) that the Tigers believe Willis' numbers (10-15, 5.17 ERA) from last season aren't indicative of his health and talent level. Consider that Willis is going to be only 28 years old by the time this contract runs out. He's plenty young enough to turn this around. Also, had they not locked him up now, the starting rotation risked looking pretty thin after 2009 if both Willis and Nate Robertson hit free agency.

And if Willis doesn't end up working out, the Tigers still signed him to a deal that's below what's become an out-of-control market for starting pitching. Did you see the news on Carlos Silva today? 4 years for $48 million with the Seattle Mariners? And he won't even be their #1 starter? $15 million for Kenny Rogers and Willis next year doesn't look too bad in comparison.

So if you were thinking of buying a Dontrelle Willis jersey this winter, that's now probably a safe investment. His number with the Tigers will be 21, by the way.