Justin Verlander wants to be the game’s first $200 million pitcher

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Since Felix Hernandez inked his seven-year, $175 million extension with the Mariners earlier this month, there has been a lot of discussion about who will be the game’s first $200 million pitcher. One of the most likely candidates, Justin Verlander, tells Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports that he feels he is deserving of the distinction.

“I don’t play this game to make the most money. But I do feel like it would be nice to be compensated for what I feel like I’ve been: one of the best, if not the best, the last few years. In my career, I feel like I’ve been one of the top. But the last two years, I’ve kind of separated myself, me and a handful of other guys.

“It’s not a thing where I’m like, ‘Hey, I want to be the highest-paid player,’ where that’s the chief goal. It innately comes with my competitiveness. That’s just me. That’s not why I play the game. I’m good at the game because of that side of me, because I’m competitive at everything I do.”

While Verlander said “free agency is really cool,” he also doesn’t think that he has “to be a free agent to get [$200 million].” In other words, if the Tigers come to him with the right offer, he would listen. But he’s also keenly aware that if he continues to pitch the way he has over the past two years, there could be a serious bidding war on the open market.

Verlander, who turned 30 on Wednesday, is currently eligible to become a free agent following the 2014 season. Dodgers’ left-hander Clayton Kershaw might be the best candidate of all to top $200 million, as he’s nearly five years younger than Verlander. By the way, he’s also due to become a free agent after 2014.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.