January 29, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers need to plan for future with Justin Verlander, other stars

Justin Verlander will be paid $20 million in each of the final two years of his contract, in 2013 and 2014. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Fans wonder. Fans worry.

Various contracts, covering various big-name Tigers, are either approaching the finish line or will be nearing their expiration dates within the next couple of years.

Dave Dombrowski heard the questions during last week's publicity tour and during Saturday's TigerFest briefing at Comerica Park. Was the front office planning on signing Justin Verlander to an extension? Miguel Cabrera? Max Scherzer?

Long before he arrived in Detroit in 2001 to run the Tigers, Dombrowski learned Contract 101's fundamental lesson that you keep negotiations quiet until you either have, or don't have, a deal.

Beyond business-school protocol, a good reason for sidestepping last week's queries — he invariably said personnel issues had to remain the club's private business — is that the Tigers probably aren't certain what they'll do about any of the above. Not with certainty.

Verlander turns 30 in three weeks and is Tigers property through 2014. He has said he wants to stick in Detroit. And, for the right price — a payday probably pushing $30 million a year — he undoubtedly would stay in Motown if the Tigers choose at some point this season to make him a multi-year offer that might keep him from free agency 21 months from now.

The Tigers understand something about Verlander that surpasses his status as baseball's best pitcher and Detroit's dynamic rotation ace.

He is built to last. Guarantees are zilch, but as much as the team's sage scouts can envision, Verlander's delivery, his body, his work ethic, all translate into a pitcher who should win 15-20 games even as the fastball loses steam during his 30s.

A gut feeling today is that some kind of extension will be announced later this summer. It would simply eliminate a lot of unnecessary speculation and chatter if both parties did what both parties appear poised to do: lock up Verlander into the next decade.

Now, it gets ticklish.

Zany trade talk?

Cabrera. How could the Tigers not offer sun, moon, and a half-stake in Ilitch Holdings in their bid to secure the best hitter in baseball for however many years it would take to keep him in Detroit?

The answer: They might. Then again, they might have an option they deem irresistible to a team that wants to remain a contender over the long haul.

Cabrera belongs to the Tigers through 2015. It means nothing has to be seriously considered until next year. And next year is a long time from now. No one knows how 2013 will play out for a team built to win — this season.

Say, at the end of this season or halfway through 2014, as Cabrera deals with the reality of turning 31 (April 18, 2014), a voracious shopper offers the Tigers a package you would expect an aggressive team to proffer for a hitter so celestial.

That package would involve multiple players and significant talent. Do the Tigers, realizing hitters generally begin to fade at age 29 (Cabrera's "fade" earned him a Triple Crown in 2012), decide they have probably maxed-out on the combination of Cabrera's payoff to the Tigers and his remaining trade value?

Any smart front office would need to make a plus-minus tally and act accordingly. The alternative would be to either allow Cabrera to become a free agent at the end of 2015, or extend him for more seasons at the point he would be approaching 33.

The Tigers can relax for 2013. They're happily hanging onto their stud. But baseball requires vision and a sense for the long term, which is why Cabrera's status a year from now could become one of the hottest personnel conversations in baseball.

Business decisions

We move to Scherzer. And to a reality that separates him from Verlander and Cabrera.

His agent is Scott Boras.

You might as well begin guessing where Scherzer will be pitching in 2015. Or, just as likely, in 2014.

Boras loves talent. And he loves delivering that talent to free agency. He believes having multiple bidders on hand is the best manner in which to market commodities otherwise known as baseball players.

He will, with relish, parade a power-pitching dynamo on Scherzer's level before drooling clubs that ultimately will make Scherzer exorbitantly rich and return a just and proper 5-percent to Boras' coffers.

That's why Scherzer, the most cerebral businessman in the Tigers clubhouse, enlists Boras. They think alike.

Elsewhere: Doug Fister is safe through 2015. Fans and the Tigers can probably wait a year before worrying about Fister's future. Austin Jackson is signed through 2015, as well, but like Scherzer, he is now a Boras client.

And so it would behoove the Tigers if last year's early draft pick, Austin Schotts, is ready to rock in center field no later than 2016. The Tigers can make Jackson a qualifying offer at the end of 2015, watch Boras sneer at it as he signs Jackson to monstrous money, and take a plush first-round draft pick as compensation for their skilled leadoff batter.

These are scenarios, only scenarios, but they are worth pondering. And in some cases, at least, the scripts will play out as one can now envision.

This is business as much as it is baseball. The Tigers understand you need to pay attention to both spheres, which is why at least one of the aforementioned big boys is likely to be part of a whopping trade in the months ahead.



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