Verlander, Tigers not talking long term ... yet
Detroit ace focused on signing 2010 contract with club
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander isn't thinking about a long-term contract quite yet. In fact, the Tigers' ace said he and the Tigers really haven't talked much about it.
When the time comes, however, Verlander is open to signing one.
"I think Dave [Dombrowski's] quote is that they want me around for a long time. I want to be here for a long time," Verlander said Thursday afternoon at the Tigers' media luncheon to kick off their annual winter caravan.
Right now, though, Verlander wants to take care of his 2010 contract first before moving on to a longer deal. His agent, Michael Milchin, and the Tigers exchanged salary figures Tuesday as part of the arbitration process and were $2.6 million apart. Verlander asked for $9.5 million, compared with the Tigers' offer of $6.9 million.
The Tigers haven't gone to an arbitration hearing since Dombrowski took over as general manager in 2002, and Verlander hopes they can avoid one this year, too. A year ago, the two sides settled just before a scheduled hearing.
Verlander expects long-term contract talks could begin soon after that and run into Spring Training, much like they did with Miguel Cabrera two years ago. The Tigers avoided arbitration with Cabrera in 2008, then reached a seven-year contract extension towards the end of Spring Training that year.
Verlander does not want talks to linger into the regular season. It isn't a deadline, but it's certainly a preference.
"I'd rather be out in the field and playing baseball," Verlander said, "and not worrying about anything else, or having any of those things weighing for me. I'm not saying a long-term deal has to be done, but one way or the other, I just want to be out there playing baseball, not worrying about anything else."
A couple other recent examples could come to mind for Verlander and the Tigers if they need references to young star pitchers agreeing to long-term extensions. The Marlins signed their ace, Josh Johnson, to a four-year contract worth $39 million last week. The Mariners and Felix Hernandez have finalized a five-year, $78 million contract.
Like Verlander, Johnson and Hernandez would've been eligible for free agency after the 2011 season. If Verlander doesn't sign, he'll be on track to become one of baseball's most prized free agents that winter.
That might be where the comparisons end. Verlander said every situation is different, and he doesn't expect to use Hernandez's contract as a comparison for anything other than what Hernandez will make this year.
"With long-term deals, it's to each his own," Verlander said. "Every player, it's basically what you're willing to sell your rights for, because that's what you're selling. You're selling rights to arbitration and free agency. I'm not saying he doesn't apply. He does, but I wasn't really paying attention to that. I'm paying attention to this first year."
In order for Verlander to do that, it's going to take more than money. It's going to take a chance to win. That was long expected to be a big factor in Verlander's thinking, and he confirmed it when asked Thursday.
In that aspect, it's been an interesting offseason for him to watch the Tigers trade Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson in what has been viewed as a financially-motivated deal, then sign top free-agent closer Jose Valverde to a two-year, $14 million contract.
"They went and signed Valverde and put more money into the team," Verlander said. "I think that's a sign of what's to come. I think Mr. Ilitch is a great owner who wants to win. That's a major part for me, because I'm a very competitive guy. I want to be on a winning team. A lot of that plays into discussing anything long term. I think I like where this is headed.
"Obviously, losing Curtis and Edwin is extremely tough, to lose those caliber of players. But I feel like the talent we got in return hopefully pans out."
Verlander said he has not talked with Ilitch about the direction of the club, but that he has heard from others in the organization.
"They've made a couple comments to me assuring me that this is not a fire sale, this is not a retooling of the team," Verlander said. "We expect to be competitive. That's where the ownership expects us to be."
Eventually, Verlander will be compensated very richly for a long time. But that contract isn't happening quite yet.
"I know I love it here, and I know I'd like to be here for a long time," he said, "but that has not been discussed yet. We'll see. We'll cross that bridge when that comes."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.