The Tigers signed Justin Verlander to a five-year contract extension that will take him through the 2019 season. The right-hander reportedly will earn $180 million over the next seven seasons, and a $22 million vesting option for the 2020 season could bring the total value of the deal to $202 million.
Hours later, the Giants inked their franchise cornerstone, Buster Posey, to an eight-year extension that will take him through the 2021 season. The catcher reportedly will earn $167 million over the next nine seasons, and a $22 million option for the 2022 season could bring the total value of the deal to $189 million.
That’s a whole lot of cheddar. And when it comes to such enormous contracts, teams inherently run the risk of setting themselves up to fail. In other words, they’re taking a leap of faith based on calculated risk.
Considering some of the costly failures we’ve seen in the past, each deal seems dangerous. Signing a pitcher to a monster contract borders insanity based on recent history, and throwing an excessive amount of cash at a catcher who has already had ankle surgery also seems like a rather foolish investment on the surface. Given the value of each player right now, though, both teams were wise to pull the trigger, as delaying a deal would only create an unnecessary headache when free agency began to rear its head.
Verlander is hands-down the best pitcher in baseball, and thus he deserved to be paid as such. There are a few others who might make a push to stake claim to that honor in a given year — including Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw — but Verlander’s consistency, durability and overall dominance is unmatched. Plus, his impact on the Tigers is obvious.
Sure, there are concerns. Verlander has logged over 1,500 innings in his eight-year career, including more than 200 in six straight seasons, and he’s a pitcher whose bread and butter is his ability to overpower hitters. That’s something some skeptics might look at as a sign that Verlander will be unable to keep up his current pace.
Verlander is entering just his age 30 season, though, and there haven’t been any signs of regression in terms of his fastball velocity. Having him under control for the next seven seasons seems like an ideal scenario, even if Verlander isn’t quite the same pitcher come Year 6 or Year 7. By that point, the Tigers will likely have gotten plenty of mileage out of the hard-throwing righty, and therefore the deal will have already been worthwhile.
It’s reasonable to think Verlander will continue to be dominant for another five years or so, which in turn should help make the Tigers contenders in each of those seasons. The additional money the Tigers will make during that span as a result of the success, and the high-profile players they could potentially lure to Detroit, means Verlander doesn’t have to be a $28 million pitcher in 2018 or 2019 for the deal to be worth it.
Posey, on the other hand, comes with even more risk. While many pitchers have failed to live up to their contracts, catchers earning such hefty paydays is a relatively new concept. One could say the case of Joe Mauer, who is in the midst of transitioning to first base (where his value will become a lot lower), should serve as a cautionary tale, there’s no denying the success that Posey has had in his young big league career. Two World Series rings and a batting title is enough to earn you respect and financial security, so the Giants were wise to lock up what they consider to be their franchise cornerstone.
Will Posey lose some of his value if he’s eventually forced to go the Mauer route and transition to first base? Absolutely. But with Posey being only 26, it’s safe to assume those days won’t be arriving any time soon — perhaps not until the very end of the deal.
So yes, both the Tigers and the Giants rolled the dice on Friday, but they took a risk on guys who have gotten it done for them in the past. Teams should never pay solely for past performance, and instead should take a forward-looking approach when it comes to all investments. But even looking through that lens, it’s easy to see why these two teams made the decisions that they did.
Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. Posey is the best catcher in baseball right now. If you’re lucky enough to have those guys, you not only make sure they don’t go anywhere, but you also make sure they don’t even have a chance to consider leaving.
Buster Posey photo (right) via Facebook/Buster Posey