Verlander Ready To Earn His New Deal
$80m Reasons To Win
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He’s now the Tigers’ $80 million-dollar man. Mike Ilitch proved how serious he was about keeping Justin Verlander in the Tiger fold by giving the Detroit pitching ace an average of $16 million a season for the next five years. It happened just two weeks before spring training in Lakeland.
“It makes for a nice trip to Florida,” Verlander said with a smile.
J.V. could nearly buy Florida with that loot. A 19-win campaign in 2009 convinced Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski that the 27-year-old Virginia native was worth the dough. Verlander led the American League in wins, innings pitched (240), starts (35) and strikeouts (269). Those are heady numbers for a guy in his fourth full season and a year removed from a bad 2008.
“I just knew I had to step it up,” he said. “A lot of the success we have is going to start with me.”
Verlander has never been shy about his talents. He openly speaks about the Hall of Fame. “It’s my goal,” he says. Justin knows that getting to Cooperstown years down the road only helps the team. It would mean he had put together some big-time seasons. That 11-and-17 rodeo in ’08 was an aberration on the way to “The Hall.”
His career began with two miserable starts in 2005. Alan Trammell was still the manager and Verlander was called up from Double-A. He was the second player picked overall in the 2004 baseball draft. Justin went zero-and-two and gave up nine runs in 11 innings. His ticket to the minors waited. “He struggled,” Trammell said. “But he’ll be back.”
Tram wasn’t, replaced by Jim Leyland in 2006, but he was right about Verlander. Rookie of the Year honors came his way during that magical run to the World Series, and those two awful performances became a distant memory. Justin and his 100-mile-per-hour fastball were the talk of baseball.
“We don’t do this without him,” Leyland said in ’06.
And personally, Verlander is bustin’ out a little bit. He was a closed book to fans and the media for the first three seasons. Jeremy Bonderman is probably his best friend on the team. J.V. has tons more personality than “Bondo,” but he pretty much kept his post-game thoughts to “sports-speak.” With the new contract, Verlander has opened up, seemingly happier about his situation here. The smile is bigger than it used to be.
Eighty million dollars has a tendency to do that for you.
“I knew I wanted to stay here,” he said. “I like it here and I’m a Tiger. I know we can win here.”
The frustration of 2009 makes him more determined. Losing that one-game playoff at Minnesota took its toll. Verlander, who didn’t show his best during spring training, is ready to put that aside and try to become the first Tiger pitcher to win 20 games or more in a season since Bill Gullickson did it in 1991. Gullickson and Jack Morris are the only Tigers to win 20 in the past 36 years.
“Numbers don’t mean that much to me. I just want to get back to the World Series … a few times,” he added.
After Verlander and Rick Porcello, the starting staff is dicey. Justin knows he will have to be on his game every time on the mound. The Tiger brass is confident he is well worth the investment. They have “80 million reasons” to believe that Justin Verlander will be the Tigers’ ace for many years to come. More importantly, Justin believes it, too. Major League hitters have their work cut out for them. | RDW
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