Saturday, March 30, 2013

Verlander and Posey: Two really big deals

Friday was a big day for Justin Verlander — he got a new
mega contract, and he got to play with a real tiger.
Opening Day serves as an unofficial deadline for contract negotiations, with players generally opining that once the season starts they don't want to be "distracted" by such issues. (My bosses are permitted to distract me all they want with multi-million dollar offers, but they apparently don't want to be distracted by such nonsense.)

Friday saw the completion of two significant contract extensions: Justin Verlander for five years, $180 million — a deal that, tacked onto his current contract, ties him to the Detroit Tigers through at least 2019 —and Buster Posey for eight years, $167 million, the second richest contract ever for a catcher (behind, of course, Joe Mauer's deal with the Twins).

The Verlander contract comes a day after the news about Johan Santana's possibly career-ending injury, and the parallels are fairly obvious. Santana signed his big contract with the Mets just before turning 29; it came after four seasons in which he never failed to pitch at least 219 innings, led the league three times in strikeouts and had staked a claim to the title of "best pitcher in baseball." Verlander is 30, and he is coming off four seasons of at least 224 innings with three strikeout crowns and his own claim to the title of "best pitcher in baseball."

Santana was only able to give the Mets one year near the level of productivity and durability he had displayed with the Twins before he started breaking down. That doesn't mean Verlander's about to decline in the same manner; Verlander is bigger than Santana, he's racked up many games with higher pitch counts than the Twins ever let Santana throw,  and he's already at the age at which Santana's stuff began to deteriorate.

Buster Posey has qualified
for a batting title just
once in his career.
The Mets probably wish they hadn't granted Santana his contract. It may be that the Tigers will eventually regret Verlander's contract. Or maybe he is truly the rare arm that can sustain that kind of workload over such a lengthy period.

Posey, like Mauer when he got his contract, is coming off an MVP season that included a batting title — a rare achievement for a catcher. Also like Mauer, there is chatter about the Giants shifting Posey to a less injury-prone position.  (As with Mauer, Posey has missed most of a season because of an injury sustained while catching.)

Posey's contract will tie him to the Giants through his age 35 season. That's an advanced age for a high-offense catcher — a danger that, of course, applies to the Mauer contract as well.

Part of what makes Posey and Mauer worthy of their pay is that they produce as well as they do while playing catcher. They wouldn't be as valuable if they were outfielders or first basemen. It's a dilemma, because heavy playing time at catcher generally shortens careers.

The Giants were willing — indeed, given that Posey was three years away from free agency, we could say the Giants were eager — to take that risk.

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