January 24th, 2013

Verlander: “I would love to play my career here”

The Tigers began the Detroit portion for their winter caravan Thursday with a media luncheon, and as with last year, Justin Verlander was the center of attention once the interviews began. He talked about his upcoming appearance in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his offseason workouts (he put off his throwing program this winter after a long season and didn’t began throwing until earlier this month) and the outlook for the team.

Once the scrum died down, then came the discussion about his contract status. He has two years left on his current deal, usually the time when teams consider extensions for guys they want to keep. The Tigers have said very little about their plans on that. Verlander let his side be known.

“There haven’t been any talks,” Verlander said. “I’ve made no secret that I love Detroit. I grew up in front of these fans. I feel like I’ve been a big part of this city, and this city has become a big part of me. So I, obviously, would love to play my career here.

“I’ve made this point before, that the ultimate goal for me is the Hall of Fame, and I would like nothing better than to go into the Hall of Fame with the Old English D on my chest. That doesn’t happen too often nowadays, for somebody to play with a team through their whole career. You see Chipper Jones, what he did, that’s something special.  But, like I said, there’s been no talks yet.”

Asked if he’d prefer having those talks now or whether they might be put off until next offseason, Verlander said, “It doesn’t matter. I mean, that’s not up to me.”

When asked how important it would be to him if he became baseball’s first $200 million pitcher, Verlander let out a laugh.

“Loaded question there,” Verlander smiled as he pondered. “Well, you guys know me and how competitive I am with every aspect of everything. But I’m my own individual. I don’t look at anybody else and say he did this, he did that. It’s what I’m comfortable with when it comes to something like that. There’s been no discussions as of yet. Don’t know if there will be.”

The fact that there’s no public timetable for talks at this point doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. If you remember back to this point three years ago, Verlander sounded back then like there was nothing close. Two weeks later, they had a deal.

A new deal now would be more complicated. Instead of a promising young pitcher on the rise, Verlander has arrived, now at the top of his profession. Still, the Tigers have a talent for putting together deals without prolonging talks.

In other news, Verlander said he has not yet decided whether he’ll pitch in the World Baseball Classic, where a potential spot is waiting for him on Team USA. How he feels in his bullpen sessions early in camp will help him decide, he says. If he does take part, he admits it would be hard not to go all-out against hitters, which would be a big  change from his usual Spring Training approach of every pitch with a purpose. That might be enough to keep him out.

“In Spring Training games, you can afford to hold a little bit back,” Verlander said. “But all of a sudden, you put yourself in a situation like that, and it’s pedal-to-the-metal. There’s no holding anything back. When you’re playing for your country, it means something.”

Pre-emptive Leyland contract post

Jim Leyland had a little fun as he walked by the reporters in the hallway of Fifth Third Field in Toledo on Wednesday night.

“You guys thought you got rid of me,” he said with a smile.

He didn’t have a whole lot of chance to take his shot as the Tigers were going through the playoffs and it became obvious the Tigers would extend his contract. So he got it in now.

Officially, his status wasn’t decided until the offseason began. The way Leyland sounded Wednesday, his status for 2014 will be on the same timetable. Again, he doesn’t expect it to happen until the season ends. As long as he’s going year to year with his contract, this is going to happen.