Right now the Tigers are trying to get their roster in order by signing those eligible for arbitration. On Tuesday, they got Gerald Laird, Bobby Seay, and Zach Miner out of the way. Now all they need to worry about is the more difficult, and pricier, Justin Verlander.
JV has set his arbitration price at $9.5 million and the Tigers have countered with roughly $6.9 million. Ideally, the Tigers and JV will settle on a price in the middle of those two ballparks, so an arbitration hearing is not necessary (arbitration hearings can only bring messiness). It's being reported that a mutual agreement will indeed happen.
Some are probably wondering why the Tigers aren't shelling out the big bucks and committing to Verlander4lyfe. The reason is because the Tigers think it's best to wait:
So, for now, expect Verlander to settle for a one-year deal, possibly in the $7.5 million to $8 million range.
It seems very unlikely Dombrowski would ink Verlander, who filed for arbitration Friday, to a long-term deal before the arbitration hearings, which are scheduled for the first week of February. Dombrowski recognizes the added cost of signing Verlander to a multi-year contract this year -- with two more, seemingly less expensive, arbitration-eligible years remaining before he becomes a free agent.
As the quote suggests, it's in the Tigers best interests to hold off on extending him when arbitration is still available. At the very worst, the Tigers go to a hearing where someone determines JV's fair value based on his actual performance, as opposed to guaranteeing him a lot of money no matter how well he pitches (and it's going to take a lot of money to keep Verlander tied down to Detroit for a long time).
That means the Tigers probably won't try to extend JV until after this season once he is about to enter his final season before free agency. At that point, Verlander (and his agent) will decide if his value is at its max before that season or if he wants to pitch one more year to try and play for even more dollar signs. Presumably, the Tigers will offer him something long-term before the 2011 season. However, if JV does not agree to that and decides he wants to test the FA no matter what, or wait until he can have another solid year on his side of negotiations, there's a chance the Tigers might not be involved in the 2011 winter bidding war, one that's sure to involve the never-ending bank account of the Yankees.
Why might the Tigers not get themselves involved?
Consider the Tigers rotation that winter of 2011 when Verlander becomes eligible for free agency. Forbid any injuries, the Tigers' Porcello & Max Scherzer will be further experienced at that point, both of whom harness ace stuff as is. If that playoff play-in game is any indication of how good Porcello is going to be for the years to come, I don't think there's any question that he will be a top pitcher in all of baseball.
Scherzer also has the potential to reach that status. He came up through the Diamondbacks system touted as a top prospect and he has a filthy slider and the velocity to deserve the praise. If Rick Knapp can somehow find a way to help hone his control, he's going to be a very scary pitcher not only to face every fifth day in 2010, but for many years to come.
Then don't forget that the Tigers have two top pitching prospects waiting in the wings in the Minor Leagues. One is lefty Casey Crosby, who missed the 2008 season with Tommy John surgery, but rebounded in 2009 with a 10-4 record and a 2.41 ERA in Single-A ball (he also fanned 117 batters in just 104 innings). By the winter of 2011, the Tigers should have a pretty good idea if he's capable of being a solid addition to the big club's rotation. If he is, that gives the Tigers three very good pitchers in Porcello, Scherzer, and Crosby.
Then there is Jacob Turner, the 9th overall pick from the 2009 draft. If all goes according to plan, he may only require the single year of Minor League ball that Verlander needed before entering the Tigers' rotation. However, a safe bet is that he'd be ready by the 2012 season. It's all speculative at this point considering Turner hasn't even thrown an inning in the minors, but if he's as good as they imagine he is (hence the 9th overall pick and the Porcello-money thrown at him), he's going to be an MLB pitcher for a long time, as well.
And if that's the case, the Tigers will have a core of four young and very, very good pitchers (and all for relatively cheap still). The Tigers will more than likely have the financial means to offer Verlander a lucrative extension when his time comes, but if these four pitchers are supposed to be the next best thing by Opening Day in 2012, it may not be completely necessary to sign the, at that time, 29-year old Verlander, who will have roughly 1300 Major League innings under his belt, for an unthinkable amount of money. It might not be necessary and it might not even be the smart thing to do money-wise.
Don't get me wrong, Dave Dombrowski has gone on record as saying JV is the type of pitcher that you build a franchise around and lock up for as long as you can. I have no reason to not believe that myself-- JV has proven to be the real deal. But all I'm saying is, don't be surprised if DD looks at his options in the winter of 2011 and, assuming he honestly believed Porcello and Scherzer were ace material, and that Crosby and Turner would be ready to take on big roles, decides to pass on giving the, sometimes stubborn, ace Verlander a payroll crippling contract. (And you don't need me to remind you that DD's been burned by big contracts before, so maybe it's just not his thing).
Ideally, if the Tigers weren't going to offer a contract to JV long-term, then they would be smart enough to trade him before the 2011 deadline for the best prospects available in someone's farm system. I'm usually not a fan of trading proven talent for prospys, but if it's even close that Porcello, Scherzer, Turner, and Crosby are ready to take the MLB by storm as the best four-man rotation the Tigers have ever had (thus don't plan on bidding on JV), then I wouldn't just encourage the trade-off of Verlander for oodles of top prospects, I'd openly demand it as a fan.
But hey, it's 2010, a lot can happen in a month, let alone two years. So just deposit this in your distant memory banks and when the winter of 2011 (or the trade deadline of 2011) rolls around, maybe this will still be relevant. If not, then hopefully that means Verlander threw 10 no-hitters in 2010 en route to a Tigers pennant and we extended him until 2025 for $500 million. The End.