LAKELAND, Fla. — For Justin Verlander, $180 million was enough. No need to wait two seasons, become a free agent and find out how much baseball’s biggest spenders would offer.
“I wondered what it would be like to test free agency, but the pull of Detroit was too much,” the Tigers’ ace said Friday after agreeing to a seven-year contract, the richest deal for a pitcher in baseball history. “Once spring training started I knew I wanted to stay.”
Verlander’s deal broke the record for pitchers set just a month earlier when Seattle’s Felix Hernandez agreed to a $175 million, seven-year contract.
“It’s a very exciting day,” Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said. “It’s a big day for us. He’s as fine a pitcher as there is in baseball. His record speaks for itself. He can be one of the greatest, if not the greatest pitcher in Tiger history.”
The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner had been signed through 2014 under an $80 million, five-year contract paying him $20 million in each of the next two seasons.
The new deal keeps those salaries and adds $140 million in guaranteed money: $28 million each season from 2015-19. It includes a $22 million option for 2020 that would become guaranteed if he finishes among the top five in 2019 Cy Young voting. The deal could be worth $202 million over eight seasons.
“The city of Detroit is committed to winning,” he said. “I’m so excited to be playing in Detroit. I was never shy about saying I wanted to stay in Detroit. It’s tough to put into words how much I love Detroit. We have the best fans in baseball.”
Considered an elite pitcher since winning the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year award, the 30-year-old right-hander is 124-65 with a 3.40 ERA in eight major league seasons with two no-hitters. He was 24-5 two years ago, becoming the first starting pitcher to sweep Cy Young and MVP since Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986.
Verlander also has compiled a 19-win season and two each of 18 and 17. He led the big leagues in strikeouts and innings in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
“He is never going to be content,” Dombrowski said. “He wants a World Series, and he wants the Hall of Fame.”
Verlander’s teammates were pleased for their star pitcher.
“First, he deserves it because it means a lot for all of us,” pitcher Max Scherzer said. “From now on, every time we go out to dinner, I am not even going to make a token effort to pull out my credit card. Every dinner this year is on him.”