Verlander loves idea of being a Tiger for life

Justin Verlander loves the idea of staying in Detroit for the duration of his career.

DETROIT — Justin Verlander, Tiger for Life.

That has a nice ring for both Verlander and Tigers fans. And a deal to keep him in Detroit for the duration of his career could become a reality, either before or after his current deal for five years at $80 million expires after the 2014 season.

I told Verlander during a media gathering at Comerica Park on Thursday that when Zack Greinke signed his six-year, $147 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, I thought of him and what kind of a deal might be in his future.

Then I asked if he thought he might become baseball’s first $200 million pitcher?

Verlander’s face lit up, he looked up and laughed.

“Heh!” he said. “That’s a loaded question.”

Verlander paused and decided to answer it anyway.

“You guys know how competitive I am about everything,” he said. “But it would be what I am comfortable with, and there have not been any discussions along those lines yet. And I don’t know if there will be.”

He will turn 30 on Feb. 20, and has been one of the game’s top pitchers since 2009. He was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner and MVP in 2011, and was runner-up to 2012 Cy Young winner David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Verlander likely will become the richest pitcher in the game in the next two years, and is certain to eclipse the $161 million over seven years New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia signed for in 2009 that extended to eight years at $182 million two years ago. Though, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners could beat him to $200 million, and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw also has a shot at that figure.

Still, as nice as that big, round figure would be for Verlander, what matters most is where he spends the rest of his prime pitching.

“I have made it no secret that I love Detroit,” Verlander said. “I have been a big part of this city, and this city has become a big part of me. I’d love to play my whole career here.

“My goal is to get into the Hall of Fame, and I would love nothing better than to go into the Hall of Fame with an Olde English D on my chest.”

He could join Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline and second baseman Charlie Gehringer in that regard. They are the only two players enshrined in Cooperstown who played for Detroit and Detroit only.

Justin Verlander, Tiger for Life.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski also has to like the sound of that. So, I am sure that Dombrowski will approach Verlander and his agents, Mark Pieper and Mike Milchin of SFX, about just such a deal sometime between now and the beginning of the 2014 season.

While that thought will linger until something is accomplished, it appears that a long-term contract for Verlander is on the back-burner.

On the front-burner is his decision on whether or not to pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, which will be played March 2-19 at various sites with the finals at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Anibal Sanchez will compete for Venezuela, and reliever Octavio Dotel is on the Dominican Republic’s roster.

Verlander said Team USA manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Greg Maddux are giving him time to make up his mind. The 28-man rosters must be submitted on Feb. 20.

“I haven’t decided on that yet,” Verlander said. “Torre and Maddux are giving me time to see. It would be an outstanding experience. But first and foremost is to be prepared for our season.”

Verlander said the fact that he pushed back his throwing program by a “half of a month” in order to accommodate a season that ran until the end of October with the World Series run is the issue.

“I’ll have to see how the arm responds,” said Verlander, who began his throwing regimen last week in Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers have spring training and he has a home. “If I have no problem in the bullpen sessions (beginning Feb. 12), then I will have a better idea.

“It will definitely be an adjustment pitching in that (WBC), but I am not afraid to make adjustments. And to play for your country would mean something.”

The current Team USA rotation consists of 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Derek Holland, Kris Medlen and Ryan Vogelsong.

Verlander would form quite a one-two punch with Dickey. Verlander has the game’s most devastating fastball and curve; Dickey is the primo knuckleballer.

Whether or not that happens, one thing is clear. The Team USA rotation is the only one Tigers fans want to see Verlander become part of outside of their own.

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