Welcome to a weekly column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports. Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email, [email protected] or twitter, @kyle_bauer
Yesterday, Justin Verlander made his first start since signing his record five-year $180 million contract extension. When this news broke, there was some slight polarization with folks either claiming, “YAAAAAAY JV IS A TIGER FOR LIFE!!!!!!!!!” or “WHAT!? THEY GAVE HIM THAT MUCH?! DID ILITCH AND DD SEE HIS THREE WORLD SERIES STARTS?!!!!!!”
I feel these reactions are both wrong for various reasons.
First off, Verlander is not overpaid. If anyone wants to argue that with me, ask yourself why you suddenly started caring about the Tigers in June of 2006. You started caring because he was then in the middle of his American League rookie-of-the-year campaign and more so he was an exciting young catalyst on an underdog pennant winning team. Cabrera, Fielder and V-Mart were not on that ’06 squad and neither was Scherzer or Coke. JV and Santiago are the last two remaining players from the ’06 AL Champions. Verlander is the face of this renaissance era for baseball in Detroit. He is what Steve Yzerman was to hockey in Detroit in the 80’s; pulling a franchise out of the dark ages into relevance.
Since 2006, the Tigers have had over 3 million in annual cumulative attendance three times (’07,’08,’12) and have been in the upper half of attendance in the AL every season Verlander has been a regular in the rotation. In a roundabout way YOU pay Verlander’s extension by watching on TV, listening on radio and going to Comerica Park. He gives you a reason to go games, if he didn’t, the Tigers wouldn’t have averaged 38,000 people for his home starts in 2012. Consider all the revenue Verlander’s dominance has generated for the Tigers. This is them making an $180 to $202 million investment in the best pitcher in baseball to continue to win and create more revenue. As pundits such as 97.1 The Ticket’s Mike Valenti and Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan have pointed out, the Tigers likely saved paying him an even bigger contract by not allowing him to raise his value with another strong season then testing free-agency.
Even with his poor World Series starts fresh on all our minds, Verlander is not overpaid by any stretch. I do not believe he will play out this contract as a Tiger though.
Don’t get more wrong, I do see it as conceivable for him to remain a Tiger throughout his contract and after the expiration. For that to happen the Tigers will need to remain competitive for the next decade and that’s where issues could arise.
This season holds no excuse for them not to repeat as American League Champions. The AL is currently down, lacking youthful and balanced teams. A “super team” like Detroit should have enough offensive balance and a strong enough rotation to make up for deficiencies on defense, in the bullpen and base running. But we’re looking at legitimate contention for this season and possibly 2014. I’m looking into the crystal ball and see this team having to shed a ton of payroll by 2015.
The Tigers currently have the fifth highest payroll in the MLB at $149 million. By 2015, Fister, Scherzer and Porcello will have been at least arbitration eligible and will seek more than they’re being paid now. Martinez and Hunter will have expired contracts in 2014 and I doubt they’ll do anything other than retire. The make-up of this current roster will have to change significantly, not only for expiring and restructuring of contracts, but also a possible ownership change.
It is not known if the Ilitch family will keep ownership of the Tigers after patriarch Mike passes on. For all we know he may have relinquished day-to-day operations and personnel decisions to his family and team President Dave Dombrowski, his job just could be as a figurehead in his elder state. Once he departs, his family could decide to sell, or at least scale back considering it was the old man’s dream for them to win a World Series. If the Tigers win a title in the next couple seasons, or ownership changes, I can’t imagine the they will continue to operate at a loss; being one of six major league teams ‘in the red’ following 2012, according to a recent Forbes article.
With the combination of Fielder, Sanchez and Verlander’s massive contracts, Cabrera could still hold a lot of trade value in two years, and he may be the first of the big three (Verlander, Fielder) to fall. I cannot see the Tigers holding onto this unsustainable payroll model, they do not have the same gate and cable revenue the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers do.
It’s not that these players are overpaid, the Tigers are living a fantasy lifestyle they are not set up to afford. If they wish to stay competitive long-term, they’ll have to flip the likes of Cabrera, Jackson, Fister or even Fielder (though I don’t see his stock sustaining or improving) for prospects and Dombrowski is going to have to commit to building a quality farm system. There’s no evidence that he is capable of this, the last Tigers draft pick to not flame out is, um, actually Verlander–I suppose you could argue Porcello but he’s been nowhere near the hype after he was drafted.
All this granduer could implode for the Tigers within the next four seasons and if they don’t win a World Series before then, Verlander will likely and appropriately demand a trade to a contender. If the Tigers can manage to fulfill their big-spending promise, he might gratuitously remain in Detroit through out his contract. Even if he does, JV shows the skills to pitch into his 40’s and likely will. I would love for him to be another Derek Jeter or Chipper Jones, but I see him being a ring chaser late in his career and with his greatness, I can’t begrudge that.
Verlander will likely not be a “Tiger for life”. It’s a nice thought for us fans and one for PR purposes you’ll hear JV and the Tigers tout. Realistically there’s many more scenarios that dictate his departure five to seven years from now. Just enjoy that we Tigers fans have the pleasure of watching arguably this generation’s greatest pitcher every fifth day.
Enjoy Verlander and the Tigers being a legitimate contender now and worry about declaring long-term commitments a long time into the future.
Jeff Passan: 180-Million Contract A Savvy Investment For Tigers- http://sports.yahoo.com/news/justin-verlander-s–180-million-contract-a-savvy-investment-for-tigers-203513113.html
Valenti and Foster (Reaction to Justin Verlander’s Contract Extension)-http://detroit.cbslocal.com/audio-on-demand/valenti-foster/#
Forbes: Baseball Team Valuations-http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2013/03/27/baseball-team-valuations-2013-yankees-on-top-at-2-3-billion/
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer