Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is It Safe to Buy that #35 Jersey Now?

The news that we’d all been waiting for finally broke last night: Justin Verlander has agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal to stay in the Olde English D through at least 2014 (barring a trade, which I hope doesn’t happen). I’ve certainly been wanting this for a long time. I haven’t made the rounds through the Detroit-area news sites and the Tigers bloggers, and hopefully I’m just being jaded, but I’d imagine that a good many of them are balking at the price tag. At first glance, it seems like a lot more than the $75 million the Tigers were originally offering, but once you do the math, you realize that averages out to $16 million a year instead of $15 million, and once you’re talking ridiculously high dollar amounts to begin with, what's a million more gonna hurt? (By the way, yes, I am aware that the contract is likely backloaded and the distribution of the $80 million will not be even). But be it $75 million or $80 million, it still seems like a lot. Is it too much? Probably. Will it come back to haunt them? Maybe. If it were anyone else on the team, I wouldn’t like it. But this is Verlander we’re talking about. He is the one player for whom I’m willing to make an exception. I stood by him all through his struggles in 2008 and early 2009 while others were saying really nasty things about him, and my faith was finally rewarded. This is one of those times when I want to indulge myself and be “just” a fan, so that is what I will do. Besides, in the end, baseball players are nothing more than entertainers. They would not get millions of dollars if people did not watch them. And I find Verlander to be very entertaining, so in that respect, he is doing his job.

There’s been a lot of comparison made between Verlander’s contract and the 5-year, $78 million deal that Felix Hernandez got earlier this offseason. As it turns out, Verlander got the slightly bigger contract, which set off a discussion over which pitcher is better (or, at least, deserves the bigger contract.
Jon Paul Morosi insists it’s Verlander, while Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors backs Hernandez. I’m more likely to point to the basic stuff like ERA, wins, etc. I don’t go for advanced sabremetrics like ERA+ or FIP or that sort of thing, which is what Tim Dierkes uses a lot. Morosi uses odd arguments like pitching in the postseason (when getting to the postseason relies on more than just the starting pitcher in question), All-Star appearances (which is, by nature, subjective), and no-hitters (which are more likely to happen with talented pitchers, but even in that event, there’s still a little bit of luck or randomness involved). Now, in Verlander’s defense, his 2008 season (which most believe is an aberration) elevated his numbers somewhat (I calculated last night that if you disregard 2008, his career ERA would be 3.63). I myself could not make a fair assessment, partially due to fan bias, but mostly because I don’t see Felix Hernandez that often. I can look at numbers all I want, but until I see a player extensively, I can’t get a good feel for him. The Tigers only see Hernandez a maximum of three times a season. But seriously, is there that much cause for debate when we’re talking a difference of two million dollars? I certainly don’t think so.

Jason Beck is concerned with the effect that this deal will have on the payroll. I suppose having $40 million going to only two players is somewhat irresponsible. And prior to this deal, there was a lot of talk about how much payroll was going to be freed up after 2010, and Beck writes as though that’s all gone and there’s no chance of signing any free agents. Still, he points out that the two most realistic options are to either trade Miguel Cabrera (not my preference) or let the prospects from the farm system step up when they are ready (which is actually a good idea). Cot’s Baseball Contracts has not been updated yet (since the distribution details of Verlander’s deal have not been announced), but my estimation is that the Tigers will end up with $50-$60 million committed to 2011. Even if they wanted to reduce the payroll to $90 million, that’s still a good $35 million or so to spend on free agents. Let’s be realistic: They were not going to field an entire team from the 2011 free agent class. And there’s probably still room in the 2011 payroll to make at least one big splash (Carl Crawford, perhaps, though I will reserve final judgment till after this season).

So I end with one final coda: Welcome aboard, Justin. Again.

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