"This is a very different type of case," said Tigers vice president/legal counsel John Westhoff, who handles contract negotiations for the club. "Because he was eligible for the first time, he was able to bring up all three years in his baseball career. Typically, once you get beyond the first year of eligibility, the primary criteria is what he did in the past year.
"It would've been an unusual and a different type of case. Where else do you remember a player with the type of career as Justin?"
Few, in fact, have had so much success at such a young age over their first two seasons, then encountered the kind of struggles Verlander battled through in 2008. That explains why it was such a long process for the two sides to reach a settlement. The Tigers have not had an arbitration hearing since Dave Dombrowski took over general manager duties in 2002, but this is chronologically the closest he has come.
Verlander was the second-overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, made his Major League debut the next summer and cracked Detroit's rotation for good out of Spring Training in 2006. Armed with a 99-mph fastball and a nasty breaking ball among his arsenal, the 23-year-old immediately established himself among baseball's bright young starters. His 17-9 record and 3.63 ERA reflected contributions that were a big part of Detroit's surprising surge from 12 consecutive losing seasons to the AL Wild Card, then the World Series.
He topped those standards and defeated expectations of a sophomore slump by going 18-6 -- the best winning percentage among AL starters -- with a 3.66 ERA and 201 innings in 2007, fueled in part by a dominant late-season run. He was named to the AL All-Star team and pitched in the Midsummer Classic at San Francisco.
Last year proved to be a step back for Verlander and the Tigers alike. While Detroit fell from its lofty expectations to a last-place finish in the AL Central, Verlander lost seven of his first eight decisions. He went on an early summer stretch of solid outings to nearly reach the .500 mark, but lost eight of his final 12 starts to finish with an 11-17 record and a 4.84 ERA.
"Even in the middle of that [early summer] streak, when I had those 10-12 games where I threw the ball really well, it still wasn't quite there -- the domination," Verlander said during TigerFest last month. "I don't want to say I expect it, but when things are going good, I can go out and dominate a game. It didn't quite feel the same way. It was close, just like everything was close last year, but I feel like some of the stuff I'm doing this year is going to have good dividends."
Verlander, a highly competitive young man, spent the offseason focused more on regaining his previous form than on arbitration. His father works as a union negotiator, so he understood the process and the business aspect of it.
"I'm not nervous at all," Verlander said last month. "It's a system that's been built for this reason, so that usually means it works out to be pretty fair."
In this case, they met halfway. When the two sides submitted figures last month, the difference was just under a million dollars -- the Tigers at $3.2 million, Verlander at $4.15 million. While the two sides could settle anywhere in between, an arbitrator would've had to side with either one figure or the other. By rule, economic factors -- such as club resources -- are not allowed to be a consideration.
The either-or scenario is one reason why arbitration cases are usually settled once both sides submit their numbers.
"You never quite know," Westhoff said, "but we did have some productive conversations before we exchanged salary arbitration figures. Then once we exchanged figures, once we looked at what the midway point was, I don't think it was all that far from the range we were talking in."
Verlander was the last of nine potential arbitration cases the Tigers faced when they left the Winter Meetings in December, having acquired arbitration-eligible Gerald Laird and Edwin Jackson. Detroit non-tendered reliever Aquilino Lopez at the deadline. Each of the other eight agreed to one-year deals.
A multi-year contract was not discussed in Verlander's situation, Westhoff said. The Tigers have not signed a player to a long-term deal since Miguel Cabrera finalized his eight-year, $152.3 million contract last spring.