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Justin Verlander contract: Tigers should extend star's time in Detroit

Justin Verlander is widely recognized as the best pitcher in the major leagues, and the Tigers would like to keep him around. But at what cost?

Justin Verlander is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season
Justin Verlander is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season
Doug Pensinger

Justin Verlander has a Most Valuable player award, a Cy Young award and a nomination for another Cy Young. He has a contract that pays him $ 20.1 million per year for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. At that point, he is scheduled to become a free agent, and could command the richest contract ever given to a starting pitcher.

The Tigers are believed to want to extend his contract and keep their ACE pitcher around longer than just two more seasons. I’d like to suggest that the Tigers offer Verlander a contract extension for $ 100 million over four more seasons, locking him up for a total of six more years, through the end of the 2018 season. At that point, Verlander would be 35 years old.

At $ 25 million per season, Verlander would become the highest paid pitcher in the game and the highest paid player starting the 2015 season. The PhilliesCliff Lee and Ryan Howard are scheduled to also earn $ 25 million that year, and the YankeesAlex Rodriguez will get $ 29 million in 2013, decreasing each year after that.

Giving long term contracts to pitchers is always risky. Some very good pitchers, such as Barry Zito, Kevin Brown, Johan Santana,Carl Pavano.... well, the list goes on and on. Only seven pitchers have ever signed contracts for over $ 100 million total. Brown, Santana, and Zito have been disasters for their clubs. Lee, Matt Cain, and Cole Hamels are too soon to tell. CC Sabathia has lived up to his promise.

But if ever there was a starting pitcher that just looks like he will defy nature and remain strong well into his career, that has to be Verlander. He has led the league in innings pitched each of the past two seasons, and in the late innings when others are starting to show signs of fatigue, Verlander has the ability to reach back for more, and is stronger than ever.

If he so desires, Verlander can hold out two more seasons and become a free agent after the 2014 season. If he stays healthy and anywhere close to as effective as he has been the past two years, he could stand to get the richest contract ever given to a pitcher. That distinction currently belongs to CC Sabathia, who signed a seven year, $ 161 million contract with the Yankees starting in 2009.

The AngelsZack Greinke and the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez will probably be the highest paid free agent starting pitchers this off season. Sanchez was reported to be asking for $ 90 million to $ 100 million over six or seven seasons, and he’s very unlikely to get that much. Within the past year, the Phillies gave Cole Hamels $144 million over six years, and Cliff Lee $ 120 million over five seasons.

The Tigers and Verlander inked a contract prior to the 2010 season that would pay him a total of $ 80 million over five seasons. However, the first two years of that contract would have been arbitration eligible seasons, and the last three, starting in 2012 were his would-be free agent seasons. The club never wanted to let him become a free agent then, and Tiger fans hope that they will not let that happen any time soon.

Verlander’s value may never be higher than it is currently. But if he wants to cash in now, the only club he can do that with is Detroit. The Tigers are the only team that can guarantee him big money- more than any other pitcher- for the next several seasons. I suggest that the Tigers make that offer, and if I were Verlander, I’d take it. But that’s just me.

The highest-paid starting pitchers, by average annual value:
1. CC Sabathia, $24,400,000 (2012-16)
2. Cole Hamels, $24,000,000 (2013-18)
2. Cliff Lee, $24,000,000 (2011-15)
4. CC Sabathia, $23,000,000
5. Johan Santana, $22,916,667 (2008-13)
6. Matt Cain, $21,250,000 (2014-23)
7. Tim Lincecum, $20,250,000 (2012-13)
8. Roy Halladay, $20,000,000
9. Carlos Zambrano, $18,300,000 (2008-12)
10. Barry Zito, $18,000,000 (2007-13)

Note: Roger Clemens received $ 28,000,000 for the 2007 season

Source: Cot's Contracts