DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's record for the richest pitching contract in baseball history lasted just under a year. Clayton Kershaw's reported seven-year, $215 million contract extension will set a new standard when the deal becomes official.
Sometime within the next year, though, it could well benefit Verlander's current teammate. While Kershaw's extension breaks Verlander's record, it should also help Max Scherzer break the bank, whether in Detroit or elsewhere.
It does nothing, of course, to help the Tigers, whose challenge of trying to keep its dominant rotation intact looks as difficult -- and expensive -- as ever. And it's not one that will necessarily be solved soon.
That's not to say Scherzer is on his way to the next record-breaking deal. Scherzer, who will turn 30 in July, is four years older than Kershaw with one fewer Cy Young Award, and just broke out into his career-best form over the past season and a half.
Yet as baseball has shown time and again over the years, it's not always about direct comparisons, but markets. With Kershaw now signed, Scherzer and Boston's Jon Lester move to the top of the potential free-agent list. Unless Scherzer agrees to an extension with Detroit in the coming months, there's a decent chance he could enter next offseason as the top free agent available -- not just for pitchers, but possibly for any position.
The immediate impact of Kershaw's deal on Scherzer is unclear. While the Dodgers reportedly aimed to re-sign Kershaw before Friday's deadline for arbitration-eligible players and teams to exchange salary figures, the Tigers' front office under president/general manager Dave Dombrowski hasn't usually worked with such timeframes for long-term contract negotiations. Usually with eligible players, the Tigers will work out a one-year deal to avoid arbitration before advancing long-term talks. Verlander's first extension in 2010, signed in early February, and Miguel Cabrera's extension in 2008, signed in late March, both came out of similar arbitration situations.
Both of those extensions, however, happened when the players were two years away from free agency. Not since Brandon Inge seven years ago has a Tiger entering a contract year signed a major long-term extension, so Scherzer is in a more urgent situation.
In addition, Scherzer was the last of the arbitration-eligible Tigers to sign last winter, barely avoiding becoming the first Tiger in Dombrowski's tenure as GM to go to an arbitration ruling. After Scherzer's Cy Young-winning season, simply agreeing on a salary for 2014 might be tougher than it sounds. For that deal, another Cy Young winner might provide a better comparison.
MLBtraderumors.com's arbitration projections from November estimated Scherzer's salary could jump from $6,725,000 last year to $13.6 million. That was before 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price avoided arbitration with the Rays with a $14 million contract for this season.
Price was eligible for arbitration for a third time. His $10,112,500 deal last winter was a record for a second-year arbitration-eligible player. However, Price isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season.
Long term, Verlander's contract might still be a better comparison for a Scherzer extension than Kershaw's deal. For one, Kershaw's relatively young age gave him an incentive for a potentially shorter contract. Kershaw's contract reportedly includes an opt-out clause that would allow him to become a free agent again after the 2018 season. At that point, Kershaw will be approaching his 30th birthday, which is where Scherzer is right now.
Scherzer, by comparison, has every reason to seek a longer-term deal at this point in his career. Verlander's deal, signed shortly after his 30th birthday last spring, is guaranteed through the 2019 season, at which point he'll be approaching age 37. His $22 million option for 2020 will vest if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting for 2019.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com suggested last month that Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a contract at or beyond Verlander's terms.
Bottom line, while the impact of Kershaw's deal on Scherzer is debatable, the one safe assumption is that it does little to bring Scherzer and the Tigers any closer to a long-term extension. Even if it provides some parameters, it doesn't diminish the potential lure of free agency.