By Al Beaton and Kurt Mensching
Justin Verlander is off playing golf in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am today, but he received some good news in regard to his future while on the course.
Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners have just set the contract bar. A bar Verlander is almost guaranteed to leap over by a considerable amount.
We wrote in November that now would be a good time for the Tigers to extend the ace's contract. In January, both Verlander and general manager Dave Dombrowski agreed that they'd like to get a deal done to keep Verlander in the Old English D for his entire career.
Hernandez's previous deal had two years remaining and was to earn him $19.5 million this season and $20 million in 2014. Instead, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the new contract goes into effect this season, making King Felix the highest paid pitcher in baseball history. The new contract leap frogs the $161 million deal CC Sabathia signed with the New York Yankees before the 2010 season. Hernandez's will rake in an average of $25 million a season through 2019, topping the $24.5 million Zack Greinke now receives from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hernandez, who turns 27 during the first month of the season, has a 3.22 ERA, 3.30 FIP and 8.65 strikeouts per nine innings rate across seven full seasons and 12 starts in 2005.
Verlander, who turns 30 this month, has a 3.41 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 9.03 strikeouts per nine innings rate across seven full seasons and two spot starts in 2005.
However, Verlander has outpitched Hernandez in both traditional and sabermetric stats during the past two seasons, and also has a Cy Young Award, MVP award and 24-win season to show for it.
By bWAR -- and we hesitate to bring this up because WAR grows tiresome when it shows up in every discussion -- Verlander has an edge, 34.2 to 31.5. Yet over the past two seasons, Hernandez has a bWAR of 8, and Verlander has nearly doubled him at 15.9. When comparing their age 25-26 seasons, Hernandez has a lead, but Verlander's age 26 total of 5.2 was higher than Hernandez's 4.3.
So it seems when Verlander does sign a new deal -- no matter if it's with Detroit or not -- Hernandez's contract is more likely to be the starting point in a negotiation rather than a goal line.
Yet we'd be remiss if we didn't note Hernandez's deal covers what many consider to be the prime years of a player's career, and Verlander has already passed that hump. A seven-year deal signed today would cover his age 30 through age 36 seasons. If the deal was tacked onto the end of the current contract, Verlander would be wrapped up through his age 38 season. That's a great thing for those who want to see the ace retire as a Tiger, but maybe not such a good thing if you had lingering doubts that he'd be worth quite so much money at that elevated age.
What most should be able to agree on is that Verlander will continue being a rather productive pitcher for the next five years. We -- Tigers fans -- should be able to agree that we'd all be thrilled with Verlander retiring in the Old English D. Although others might quibble, most probably agree that right now Verlander is a better pitcher than Hernandez and deserves to earn more money.
But if we're being honest here, down the road there will almost certainly be a point where the pair cross paths, with Hernandez being of more value than Verlander. The injury risk, though likely lower with a player like Verlander who has a history of good health, should still be figured into any such deal. Yet, again if we're being honest here, the Tigers seem likely to take care of Verlander even if it might not be in their long-term best interests.
Justin Verlander will almost certainly become baseball's highest-paid pitcher. The only question remains, will $200 million get it done?