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Verlander Signing a Relief

By Scott Bolohan

Detroit, you can breath a sigh of relief.

After trading Curtis Granderson this offseason, the eternal optimism which surrounded a Tigers’ offseason turned into a bleak and depressing outlook on 2010. Would Justin Verlander really leave as a free agent in two years? Was he the next out the door? No one knew, and nothing would come as a shock.

The extension comes as much of a commitment to the fans as it does to Verlander. The Tigers are still committed to winning and keeping talent in the organization. They aren’t cutting payroll, they’re building long-term. And now the cornerstone is in place.

Let’s be honest. Dave Dombrowski doesn’t really have the best track record when it comes to handing out contracts. While it’s not without some concern, it’s hard not to like Verlander’s new five year $80 million deal.

Any contract with a pitcher is a risk (see: Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis…) but with Verlander, the risk is worth it. In five years, anything can happen. At any time, he’s one pitch away from ending his career. But in that same time frame, he could win multiple Cy Youngs, lead the league in numerous categories, and solidify himself as one of the games’ aces. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big contract. But it’s the going rate for franchise pitchers, which he certainly is.

Following the trade of Granderson, the Tigers lacked the one player everyone could get behind. Miguel Cabrera should have been that guy, but for whatever reason, he’s never been particularly embraced in Detroit, and his alcohol problems endeared him to no one.

Which left Verlander as the rightful heir to the throne. He’s incredibly talented, perhaps unlike any pitcher in Tiger history. And better yet, he has the drive for greatness. He has his money now, and unlike with many players who hit their big payday, there’s no reason to expect him to slow down. He’s too much of a competitor. Like Granderson, he was homegrown and losing him would have hurt nearly as much. What Verlander lacked in a presence in the community, he made up for in raw, unmatched talent. Pitchers like him are irreplaceable, coming around once in a generation or two.

At this year’s TigerFest, Verlander seems more fan friendly than usual. When he spoke with the fans at his Q and A session, he came across as charismatic and intelligent. He’s never been the most accessible player on the team, but maybe he’s realizing he is now The Man for the Tigers. He has big shoes to fill as the most popular answer to “Who’s Your Tiger?” but he’s seemed to mature enough to handle it.

If he hit the open market, he’d receive a minimum of $20 million a year. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers letting anyone outbid them for Verlander, so it would have only bumped up their price. If anyone can still remember the dark days before Verlander arrived when pitchers like Brian Moehler were the Opening Day starters, the value of an ace isn’t lost on them. If the Tigers needed a win and Verlander was pitching, I’d expect them to win.

Which is why this deal is a win for the Tigers. They avoided another PR nightmare, didn’t have to overpay to keep him and at the same time, it shows a commitment to winning. The fresh wounds from Granderson have slightly healed. Detroit can rest easy now knowing that Verlander will be around for the next five years.

At least on every fifth day.


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