LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers and their fans can celebrate before the season even starts.
Just before Friday’s game, Justin Verlander sent out a cryptic Twitter message: “Today is going to be a great day. Big news coming.”
He wasn’t kidding.
The Tigers then announced they had signed Verlander to a five-year contract extension through the 2019 season with a vesting option for 2020.
“It’s a big day for us,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “To me, as fine a pitcher in the game of baseball, his record speaks for itself. He’s made a tremendous commitment to the organization to be with us.
“You’re looking at Justin having a chance to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest Tiger pitchers in history if he continues to pitch the way he is, which we have confidence that he will.”
Verlander admitted to being attracted by the lure of free agency and seeing what the open market offered, but said the desire to remain in Detroit was much stronger.
“It’s tough to say how much I love Detroit,” Verlander said. “It’s tough to put into words. It’s a unique situation where I was drafted by the Tigers and I felt like I grew up in front of these fans. They’ve been extremely supportive of me and this ball club since day one. They’re the best fans in baseball. That’s something special. That’s a big reason why I wanted to stick around here. We’re a kindred spirit.
“I want to win a World Series, not only for myself and for my teammates, but for the fans of Detroit, too. They deserve it.”
Verlander called Mike Ilitch “the best owner in baseball” and said Ilitch’s commitment to having a competitive team was a “huge factor” in his decision to extend his contract.
“First and foremost, I want to win; I want to be part of a winning organization,” Verlander said. “He’s committed to keeping his stars around and putting a team out there that, year in and year out, has a chance to win a World Series.”
As first reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney and confirmed by FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, Verlander can make $202 million under the new terms of his deal, $180 over the next seven seasons, plus the vesting option of $22 million.
Verlander will make $20 million in each of the next two seasons under his current contract that runs through the 2014 season, then $28 million annually from 2015-2019, leading to the vesting option year in 2020.
Dombrowski said the vesting option kicks in for 2020 if Verlander finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting the previous year, 2019.
Morosi also reported that Verlander’s extension includes a no-trade clause even though Verlander is three seasons away from becoming a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the majors, five consecutive years with same team). Morosi said that the deal does include bonuses for MVP and Cy Young awards as well.
ESPN Stats and Information said the $180 million-plus contract is the largest for a pitcher in MLB history, $5 million more than Seattle’s Felix Hernandez’s contract. ESPN Stats and Info also said that the average annual value of Verlander’s contract was $25.7 million, surpassed only in average annual value by Roger Clemens, who had a one-year deal for $28 million in 2007.
Verlander had said the $200 million figure was an intriguing one for him and now he has a chance at it.
“The opportunity to stay in Detroit and earn $200 million is great,” Verlander said. “Obviously, it would be nice if it was guaranteed, but I’ve got to go out there and earn it on the baseball field. That’s how I got this current contract, and that’s how I plan to continue the rest of my career.”
Dombrowski said talks began in the wintertime, increased when they got to Lakeland and then really picked up in the last 10 days to two weeks. Verlander had expressed a preference for getting something done by his final spring start.
“These things are never easy to get done,” Dombrowski said. “A lot of give-and-take on both sides to make it happen, and I think the commitment was from Justin that he wanted to stay with the Tigers organization and we wanted to keep him a Tiger.”
Verlander turned 30 this year and Dombrowski was asked about the risk involved in a long-term deal. While acknowledging there’s always a risk with pitchers, Dombrowski said it was one they were willing to take.
“You see what he does day in and day out to prepare himself,” Dombrowski said. “You’re talking about an unusual individual to be able to really achieve what he has. He not only has great physical ability, but he knows how to pitch.”
Dombrowski cited a statistical analysis that projected the top 25 players in baseball for 2018 which ranked Verlander 11th, when he would be 35.
The ever-confident Verlander said he’s not thinking about that.
“I’ve seen guys in the past, obviously it’s been a few, but guys who maintain their velocity into their 40s,” Verlander said. “It’s possible. So why not me?”
The Tigers now have $568 million tied up in contracts for Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
Verlander also said this contract might not be his last.
Said Verlander: “To be a part of (Tigers fans) for the rest of my career — hopefully the rest of my career; I don’t plan on being done when this contract’s over — it’s something that I think is special to me and the city.”