Barry Zito’s free agent contract, negotiated before the 2007 season, could have been a cautionary tale. He got $126 million over seven seasons — the last is upcoming — and is 58-69 since the ink dried. Pitchers can be fragile.
But those deals kept on coming for CC Sabathia, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, and, just weeks ago, Felix Hernandez.
They all pale compared to what Justin Verlander will get from the Detroit Tigers. Already locked in to $20 million paydays this year and next, his extension adds $140 million in guaranteed money from 2015-19 as his annual income jumps to $28 million. And if Verlander is still a top-five Cy Young Award vote-getter in 2019, he’ll qualify for a $22 million option year in 2020.
Total amount of the deal from Monday, when Verlander pitches on Opening Day in Minnesota, to its conclusion is $180 million. Should he still be a Tiger in 2020, make that $202 million.
If any pitcher in the game is worth that kind of investment to his particular franchise, it is Verlander. This locks him into the Olde English D, eliminating what would have been a free-agent sweepstakes after the 2014 season.
But it is nonetheless a gamble. Starting pitchers aren’t everyday players; more like one in every five. And this particular 30-year-old starter, despite his workhorse, innings-grinding, high-strikeout, low-hit load, has somewhat surprisingly won 20 games only once.
The Tigers, who according to Forbes Magazine took in revenue of $238 million last season, have a number of big-dollar contracts, some of them long-term, tied up in the likes of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, newcomer Torii Hunter, and another starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, to name a quintet.
Add in Verlander and these six players will tap into more than $100 million of the Tigers’ payroll in 2013.
For it to work, Verlander first and foremost has to remain free of injury, as has been the case during his first seven-plus seasons. He has to continue to fill the seats and standing-room areas of Comerica Park every time he grips the ball.
And, lastly, it won’t hurt if the Tigers continue to make repeated runs at the World Series, where they were swept by San Francisco last fall. Those are revenue runs as well as championship bids.
Nothing is etched in granite — remember Detroit’s ups and downs of 2012 — but few teams if any are given better chances of making it to the 2013 World Series than the Tigers.
Verlander heads a pitching corps that, despite an unsettled bullpen, could be special, knock on wood.
The wood most people will be watching is the bat of Martinez, who returns as the switch-hitting everyday DH after missing all of 2012 with a torn-up left knee.
But he hit .330 two years ago with a knack for hits with runners in scoring position and with two outs.
He could make the Tigers a lock, along with:
AL Central: 1. Tigers; 2. Indians; 3. White Sox; 4. Royals; 5. Twins.
AL East: 1. Rays; 2. Blue Jays; 3. Yankees; 4. Orioles; 5. Red Sox.
AL West: 1. Angels; 2. Rangers; 3. Mariners; 4. A’s; 5. Astros.
NL Central: 1. Cardinals; 2. Reds; 3. Pirates; 4. Brewers; 5. Cubs.
NL East: 1. Nationals; 2. Braves; 3. Phillies; 4. Mets; 5. Marlins.
NL West: 1. Giants; 2. Dodgers; 3. Diamondbacks; 4. Padres; 5. Rockies.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.